The good news is the same as the bad news. Aristotle, in his Poetics, never promised catharsis for the makers of art, only for the audience. The makers, on the other hand, have to find a way to become the person who can write the poem they need to write (Stanley Kunitz said that). This could be cathartic, or it could destroy you. But you can’t go into it hoping for catharsis.

In the original Greek the sense of the word catharsis was as a daily practice, that we woke up each day with who we were, and each day we had to find a way to carry ourselves through it. This contrasts with our more contemporary idea of catharsis (which I blame on a misreading of Freud) as a one-time event, a revelation, a light coming on in an empty room. In this version, once we find the switch to turn that light on, we then get to see clearly what it was in our pasts (mom, is that you?) that causes us to act the way we do, and then we are able to integrate it (her) into our lives, and we are healed.

The hull scraped clean. Freud as electrician, makes the lights go on.

Nick Flynn, “Tropes, Propositions, Fish, Bicycles”