This morning I visited “Sundays at the Morton” church, but because I gave myself way too much extra time to find it and park, I found myself with half an hour of extra time downtown Athens. Fortunately, the Morton theatre is across the street from a wonderful coffee shop, so I proceeded to get myself a cup of Earl Grey and settle down at a table and browse the books that lined the windowsill. In between a number of unfamiliar titles I discovered a stained copy of C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. Perfect! I had never read this book, but heard good things about it, and Lewis’ name in the sea of unfamiliar (and, indeed, in the city of not-very-familiar) was like running into someone you know at an event when you’re expecting to be all alone and awkward about it.
I soon found myself absorbed in Lewis’ writing: conversational, confessional, honest. Something about Lewis as a writer (how could I not trust someone who lead me through Narnia at age 10?) and the tone of this particular book was just what I needed, even though grief was not particularly on my mind. The book was companionable, and it felt authentic.
This got me thinking (again) about the way confessional writing works. It seems mysterious and dangerous and powerful the way reading has the ability to make us feel we know someone we have never met, and the way familiar writing (both in tone and in repeated reading) can give you the sense of hominess, and perhaps intimacy. I have a friend who reads Traveling Mercies to calm herself down when she’s upset. What about reading has such a tight hold on our emotions?
This effect seems dangerous too. I had a conversation with Craig today about blogging creating a strange relationship when you feel you know someone just from reading their blog, but your real relationship isn’t as intimate as your knowledge of that person might suggest. This has always been an issue with confessional writing, but blogging seems to make it more immediate (and more widely experienced). How do we, as both readers and writers, embrace the power of confessional writing and avoid the strangeness? Can we? Is it worth it anyway? I guess my continued writing would indicate that I think it is. But how do we negotiate these issues?