I am in a poetry group at the Writer's Workshoppe. We pay for five sessions, and meet as a group once a week in the evening. We have five to seven people and the moderator. We each bring a poem. Each of us reads their poem aloud. Everyone else has five minutes to respond. The moderator calls on each of us for our thoughts. We are not supposed to rewrite it nor talk directly to the author. We speak of the poet and have a template: feeling, meaning. At the end of the first session we each read our poem for the next week and pass them out. Homework. At the next session we all have our poems returned with written comments.
The meetings leave me cheerful. With five to seven people reading and commenting on one piece, they happily contradict one another. Some really likes the start and the ending. The next person would start it with the third stanza. Everyone thinks it's about something different.
I present Flooded. Each person wants it to be different. They said it was good but made them very uncomfortable. One wants it to be "Her" rather than "I". One wants the thoughts about PTSD and victims taken out. One says it's a good picture of someone overwhelmed by a washer overflowing, but how emotional! The narrator has no control! It's an emotional over response. The poet is not allowed to reply to any of the comments or explain.
Even though we are not supposed to talk directly to or about the poet, I still have the sense that I am getting sidelong glances. They know I am a physician. Physicians are supposed to be cool, kind, distantly detached, aren't they? Or are they addicts with a painful limp, like House? At any rate, they aren't supposed to fall apart about a washer and compare it to a tsunami.
At first I feel disappointed at the responses, but they all have one thing in common: distancing. To make it third person distances the feelings. To take out thinking about other people and PTSD, leaves the reader with a person who is only out of control with emotion and no ability to think. I was trying to capture what a PTSD feeling is really like: that it takes over from a trigger and is just an emotional cascade. And that eventually thought returns, like rocks sticking up in a flooding cascade.
I thought that people in the room were comfortable with me writing about a person having a PTSD experience. But if it was my experience, my feelings, me that was flooded, that was too close. Everyone shied away, afraid. What are they afraid of?
They are afraid because they see me and know I am a physician. If this is my response, do I have PTSD? And if I don't have PTSD, can anyone have an overwhelming emotional response? Was my response appropriate or not? Or what if everyone has emotional cascades at times?
I think that we are so afraid of emotions and admitting we have emotions. I did have a cascade of emotions when the washer overflowed. It felt overwhelming. I was sure that I would get through it, that it would wash over me, flood me, but I would come out of it. When I started thinking about PTSD and war and disaster victims and about how they might experience these cascades over and over, and time after time, the emotional flood was starting to subside. I thought it was unreasonable of me to have that sort of response to a small wall of water, rushing across the floor, but that is the point. I don't control my emotions. I'd watched videos of the tsunami over and over. I wrote the poem because the cascade of emotion and thought was so fast, there, and then I was moving to stop the washer and grab towels to stem the wall of water.
Treatment for PTSD is under intense study, medicines, individual therapy or group therapy or rapid eye movement therapies.
I haven't changed the poem, because the responses echoed how I felt when it happened.