Tess Congo on giving suffering a purpose
How have you used writing as a healing or trauma recovery tool? How does it give you autonomy and self-understanding?
Meredith Hall, the memoirist and a professor of mine, once told me that we get the term "essay" from the French verb "essayer" which is "to try," and I think in writing for me, it's always been about trying; trying to understand myself, my feelings, and the situations around me which growing up often felt (and mostly were) out of my control.
I don't think writing should be exclusively used as a healing or trauma recovery tool. I think that's a little dangerous because often you're not getting outside perspectives as you write, but I think writing combined with exercise, meditation, a healthy diet, therapy, and whatever lifts your soul is important.
Growing up I found writing literary analysis paper outline especially beneficial as a healing and trauma recovery tool when it allowed me to connect to others; when I wrote poems about people who harmed me and those poems went on to win awards, or touched people at readings, or got published, there was this sense of a little bit of the heaviness leaving me. I think when you see the pain you've suffered turned into something beautiful, it gives the suffering a purpose that it didn't seem to have before.
One of my favorite quotes that I will return to for the rest of my life is from Alice Sebold's memoir Lucky; "that memory could save, that it had power, that it was often the only recourse of the powerless, the oppressed, or the brutalized." Writing empowers. It gives us the opportunity to tell our story without being interrupted. It's also the way I feel most independent because writing mostly and largely only depends upon myself—to know that I can entertain myself or work out a problem or feelings simply by picking up a pen is really liberating, and it's been the saving grace of my whole life.
Do you integrate writing into your ritual/spiritual/magical life?
I feel like I integrate ritual and what's spiritual and magical into my writing, which is to say yes, they are all entwined for me.
If we put three writers or books into a circle to summon you, who/what would they be?
This question is amazing. 1) The Count of Monte Cristo 2) The Bronte Sisters 3) Sylvia Plath
Is there a single piece/book of writing that has helped to heal you? How has it helped?
No, there are many that have worked together for me, but there was a period in my life where I was finding a lot of solace in Patricia Lockwood's poem the "Rape Joke" because she took something really awful and made it funny while still allowing it to be awful.
Tess Congo recommends….Brooklyn Poets run by Jason Koo is one of my favorites, and so many others including Sweet Action Poetry Collective founded by Mirielle Clifford and Julie Hart and helped led by Emily Blair, JP Howard's Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon, and Cynthia Manick's reading series Soul Sister Revue.
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