But it’s not the part of the story that really matters. What really matters, it seems to me now, is that I was bored with my job as a newspaper reporter and depressed. I was living in exile from my family and driving away the people I loved with an astonishing efficiency. What I needed was therapy. As it happened, I applied for a Master of Fine Arts in fiction.
Most of my comrades arrived in similar states of disrepair. We did our best to conceal the worst of it, to play the part of eager newbies grateful for the opportunity to hone what we referred to majestically as “our craft.” But the crazy inevitably surfaced, under the aegis of booze or pot or some brisker narcotic. After parties, we stumbled into the night howling songs of loneliness and sorrow. At least I did.
Around the workshop table, our instructors urged us to focus on technique: point of view, sentence structure, show don’t tell. We were permitted to discuss the suspiciously familiar afflictions of our characters, but to probe too vigorously into psychology was to invoke the cardinal rule of workshop: writing is not therapy.
This made sense to me. As the child of two therapists, I knew the process well enough by then. My sessions were tedious affairs, thick with self-pity and grievance — the trademarks of the young solipsist.
I figured I had gone into the literary racket because I had urgent and profound things to say about the world and because I was a deeply creative person. But looking back, I can see that the instigating impulse for me, for all of us really, was therapeutic. We were writing to confront what Faulkner called “the human heart in conflict with itself.” And not just any hearts. Our hearts.