In 2012, a driver pulled up behind me while I was putting a box in the trunk of my car. He crushed my legs between the two bumpers. I was bedridden for four months, and then I started physiotherapy. Within a year I was able to do 95 percent of the activities I had done before the accident. People would ask me how my legs were doing and I would smile and tell them I was doing well. I was, physically—but I didn’t tell them that I wasn’t able to write.
I wasn’t able to write for clients, organize events or attend networking functions. I didn’t think any of it was worth it. I had lost my drive. In fact, I had lost my desire to do anything at all. A few weeks after the accident, I had looked at the positive side of things: I had decided to finish my second book of stories; I was going to write on my laptop while in bed. But that never happened.
My insurance agent suggested that I see a therapist. I would only be able to move forward by dealing with the trauma. I decided to try it, and I discovered that writing itself was what would cure my writing block. It’s called narrative therapy, and it changed my perspective on life.
Vera, my therapist, asked me to do exercises in automatic writing. I had to just put words on the page without thinking about what I was writing. Then she said that I had to write about the accident in order to regain my confidence. At first, this seemed like an impossible task. If I could write, why would I be there? I could talk about the accident during therapy, but I couldn’t write about it. I didn’t want to write about it.
Eventually, I wrote a story about a writer who was unable to write about a traumatic experience. It took me many months to be able to do that. I could not sit for longer than five minutes at a time. I worked at it early in the morning when everyone was still asleep, when I was least likely to be interrupted—and when no one would see me crying.
As part of the therapy, I was obliged to read that first story “Because of Leonard Cohen” at every therapy session until I could read it without crying. That accomplishment was priceless. Then, the therapist asked me to read the story at a public venue as I would have done with any of my other stories. But I couldn’t fathom the thought of sharing my very personal writing in public. I come from a background where broken bones get fixed and as for the rest, we simply move on. Everyone knew that I had been in an accident. Very few people knew about the ensuing depression. It was not a topic of discussion.
“I could not sit for longer than five minutes at a time. I worked at it early in the morning when everyone was still asleep, when I was least likely to be interrupted—and when no one would see me crying.”
I first read “Because of Leonard Cohen” abroad, at a short story conference where very few people knew me. The story was later published in the international short story anthology Unbraiding the Short Story, edited by Maurice A. Lee. Then, I wrote more, and more. I wrote and published other pieces inspired by my accident, “In Front of the Bell Centre” and “The Woman in the Red Coat.” And I still haven’t finished writing all of the stories that I need to, and want to, write. I have a Table of Contents with the titles of all the stories that I am working on, all part of my narrative therapy. With the completion of each new story, the process is the same. I ask for feedback from several writer friends. I read it repeatedly in private until I feel completely comfortable with it. I read it to my husband and children. Then, I read it in public either before or after it is published. Now, I preface the readings by saying that the story came out of narrative therapy.
Vera told me about Raymond Queneau’s Exercices de style (1947), a collection of ninety-nine retellings of the same story, each in a different style. Although I am no longer in therapy, I continue working on my own version of Queneau’s book: multiple literary variations of my accident and its aftermath. Just as I was not thrilled about physiotherapy and osteopathy, I am not exactly fond of this literary project—mostly because I have had to postpone other writing projects. On a positive note, however, narrative therapy has encouraged me to go beyond my comfort zone by doing other activities connected to writing that I would not have done a few years ago: guest blogging, giving workshops, mentoring other writers, writing/speaking about depression and narrative therapy, and actively seeking venues to read the writing that has come out of narrative therapy.
I still cry every time I tackle a new story, but I always feel a great satisfaction when I share it in public. It is part of the process that moves me towards complete healing, as is this piece that you’re reading right now. In fact, I prepared my pitch for this column two years ago. I just wasn’t ready to share my experience then.
Licia Canton is the author of the short story collection Almond Wine and Fertility (2008), published in Italy as Vino alla mandorla e fertilità (2015). She is also a literary translator and founding editor-in-chief of Accenti Magazine. She has published personal and critical essays and edited nine books. She mentors emerging writers, journalists, and editors. She holds a Ph.D. from Université de Montréal and a Master’s from McGill University. See her profile in LinkedIn or the Hire A Writer directory.
Photos: Flickr (top); Ohayon (headshot)