It’s true. Some brain study recently found that we experience the same emotions when we write about a memory as we do when we experience the actual event.
(At least I think so. I tried finding this study online just now but the best Google could do was direct me to a WikiHow article called Seven Steps to Move on From Somebody Who Doesn’t Like You. Equally valuable, I suppose, but not quite what I had in mind).
In the past three years, I’ve been doing a lot of writing about my past.
I sat down one afternoon the summer I graduated college and started writing about my life as a teenager. (Write what you know, as they say). I couldn’t stop. Two years later I had written a 73,000-word book about my high school experience. And I had learned that writing really does mean living life twice.
By day I was a graduate student studying marriage and family therapy. But by night, lying in bed with my laptop perched on my legs, I was having the rare experience of going back to high school.
I went back to marching band practice. And back into my old tennis uniform. I was welcomed back inside the houses of my old friends. I crept back into the classroom where somebody did a bad thing to me. I went back to sleepovers. I went back to parties in my basement. I had my first kiss again. I got back together with my ex-boyfriends and suffered through our breakups once more. I fell back into my stupid, long-standing rivalry with another girl. I went back to the prom. And then, eventually, I graduated again—the same month I graduated grad school in my daytime life.
“I finished writing a book last week,” I told my supervisor as I sat in her office the last day of grad school. I had purposely never mentioned my book-writing to her, out of a fear that she would take this to mean I wasn’t busy enough for a grad student and assign me more reading—like the time she saw me goofing off in the pod and handed me a complicated book about couples therapy and told me to summarize it for her by next week.
“It’s strange,” I told her now, sitting in the still, disquieting atmosphere of many things ending at once. The final curtain falling, the readjusting of eyes to the light. “For so long I’ve been looking forward to finishing my book,” I said. “Because it’s taken up so much of my time. And I’ve wanted to get back to other things I enjoy. Like reading, and taking walks, and painting.”
“But?” she asked, all-knowing as always.
“But now all I want to do is write another book.”
And so I have ventured back to re-live my past again, this time to college.
In my time between work and errands, I have gone back to my dorm rooms, back to communal showers, and back to the intimate dance of living with a roommate. I have gone back to moving, back to depression, and back to healing. I have gone back to another pointless rivalry, many late nights at McDonald’s, and that terrible phone call that changed everything. I have also been back just to sit under the trees and soak up the beauty of campus.
And now, most recently, I’ve been going back to Australia.
We write to taste life twice.
It’s true, one hundred percent. And it’s the most difficult and best part of being a writer.