The therapeutic value of writing takes several forms.
First there is the actual connection of a pen with paper. A fountain pen is best for this, and a nice smooth heavy vellum. You can lose yourself in this process, the troubles of the world falling away as the ink flows onto the paper and finally forms the loops and squiggles that convey “Worcestershire Sauce.” For best effect the W should be a tangle of swirls and eddies with a trailing banner that extends halfway across the line. It is a proud concept and should be rendered with elegance and dignity. It should lift the spirits.
For commonplace things such as “eggs” and “shoelaces,” simple script will do, but done slowly, feeling the almost imperceptible hiss of the pen as it forms the uprights and descenders. A short letter to your old auntie who barely knows what email is, bless her, should occupy about a third of your mind with thinking of things to say about the weather and your cousins, and the rest of it with the sensual pleasure of covering a nice piece of mauve paper with pleasing patterns of spikes and loops. It is a Zen-like process and a tonic to the soul.
Second there is the purgative effect of loosing a well-deserved blast of scathing ill-humor at the phone company, or the newspaper, about unsatisfactory service or the moronic or unscrupulous actions of some public servant. A really good head of steam can be developed if both can be demonstrated. Such compositions can have a number of positive effects. It is a good idea somewhere in your letter to make some reference to Myrmidons or Horatio at the bridge or the Augean Stables so as to let the buggers know that you are a person to be reckoned with. You will therefore probably have to brush up on your classics in preparation for the project and this in itself will broaden your mind. In rare cases you may even achieve redress for your grievances, but don’t count on it unless you have solid grounds for legal action and have made this clear in your letter. In any case simply putting a stamp on such a document and dropping it in the mail is a proven way to lower your blood pressure up to 20 points.
Third, writing things down enforces a rigor of thought and logic that is often lacking in speech. For example, in 1994 the Appalling Mr. Bush spoke thus: “Mars is essentially in the same orbit…Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe.” Would the Pretender to the Throne actually have said this if he were writing it all down? Surely not, not even He, who later correctly observed, “Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things.”
And finally there is the alchemical property of writing that can transform your personal crises into comic opera featuring airborne cream pies, hilarious pratfalls, and tumbling clowns. You may start your piece overwhelmed by the tragedy of your life, tears coursing down your wrinkled cheeks, steeped in the knowledge that your life is effectively over and nothing remains but this, your suicide note.
So you set the cup of hemlock down on your desk, blow your nose and start to compose your final jeremiad. By the time you get to the part where a family of skunks had moved into your wrecked car before the tow truck could even get there, a wry smile has crept across your puffy red face.
And when you reach the part about how your faithless lover nearly brained himself by tripping over his damned stereo system and falling face down in a heap of his precious bloody Guy Lombardo disks, breaking a good half of them, and his reptilian nose to boot, you are beginning to feel downright perky. And before you know it you notice you are aching for a cup of tea, so you pour the hemlock into a potted fern, go out for a quart of milk and by the time you get back you realize you needed a new car anyway, and what could you possibly have seen in that loser? So you stow your tear-stained outpouring under a pile of magazines and check what’s playing at the CinePlex.