Friday, April 26, 2013

Writing from the wounds

by Margaret Swedish
"’s becoming harder and harder not to see pain as a necessity for creating truth with words..."

That was written by Luke Reynolds for an article in The Writers Magazine back in 2011. The magazine's home is outside Boston and re-posting it was a way to express something of what they were feeling in the wake of the marathon bombings. The article is entitled, "Why We Need Pain to Write."

Yeah, I know. I feel the resistance, too. And the truth of it.

Reynolds reminds us of the John Gardner quote: "Art begins in a wound."

Is that true?

I sat for a long while on a bench at the lake shore this morning just after sunrise. The sky was so soft, gentle oranges and grays, rays appearing here and there through the clouds just above the horizon where the sun could find openings, the water still, glowing silver and sparkling, the ducks and gulls busy with life. 
Rays appearing here and there through the clouds where the sun could find openings...

Lake Superior - Photo: Margaret Swedish
Is that what we're trying to do? But to find the openings, we have to observe the clouds, the places blocking out the light. Naming them is part of what it means to be a writer. And then to remember that all of it was what gave beauty to the morning, the contrasts in color and light, the struggle of life as the new day begins.

I am well aware of the loss it took in my life, the severity of the pain required to finally open the well where I could become the writer that I wanted to be. I am aware that I live in a culture that often goes to desperate measures to avoid pain - emotional, psychological, spiritual pain - even though that pain is one of our most necessary teachers. It tells us something, tells us where it hurts, what to pay attention to, what to examine to find the source of it. Sometimes it tells us where the danger is, or gives us a diagnosis about our condition. Sometimes it tells us what we need to accept, or what we need to heal.

It's part of the experience of being alive.

It seems we would rather do just about anything rather than go to the pain, one reason we have a vibrant profit-making machine in the pharmaceutical industry, one reason why the distractions of tech-toys, video games, and reality TV shows are so popular. We are in a lot of pain, and running away from it is one of our chief industries.

Words in the media rush to the surface and stay there with mind-dulling regularity. If we lift off the covers from the surface to examine things like the marathon bombings and who those guys really were/are, and what this says about us as much as it says anything about them, and if we read this Leonard Pitts column today and see below the surface of the words he quotes to the reality of what is alive and seething within them (and how this person and thousands of others are preparing), we start to see layers and layers of what this culture has wrought and it forces a look in the mirror, an examination of what we are really feeling inside, that may be too much to bear - mostly because we are out of the habit of being fully alive.

We need to practice at being fully alive.You can get out of practice. If facing the reality of pain (which also means mortality, vulnerability, and lack of control [which is more truthful about us than anything else I know]) is avoided for a long enough time, like anything else, you forget how to do it, the muscles atrophy, the balance weakens, the arteries tighten and the blood flow is stanched. Then the body grows cold, the spirit leaves it.

Creation, destruction, gestation
We treat pain as something alien. The result is we tend to over-dramatize it. We make it more significant than it really is. It is part of the grandiosity of the human that is at the heart of our western religious and philosophical pathologies. When I look at this pain, my pain, the pain of the world, from the vantage point of, oh, say, this Hubble Telescope view, or the latest affirmation of Einstein's theory of relativity, it's not to trivialize it, but rather to put it in its proper place.

If you view what is happening out there in the cosmos, you realize that the entire universe is a boiling cauldron of explosions and chaos, of birth and death, of reorganizing, tearing apart, and starting over. There is some mysterious little particle, now dubbed the Higgs Boson, which somehow holds enough of matter together to give it mass, which makes possible our ability to perceive and reflect back on what we perceive.

We're just in all that, in our own world here on this planet where life emerged, seething, exploding, creating chaos and order, tearing apart and starting over...

No one can write with truth and authenticity without being deeply connected in a conscious way to that energy. It is manifested in our most intimate lives and in our most exuberant and expansive aspirations, hopes, and dreams. It is humans reaching out beyond the solar system for the first time in the form of Voyagers I and II, trying to peer out into the universe to find what's out there, but mostly to look back and see where we are in it. And it's in our reaching in, deeper and deeper into the heart of matter, to find the particles that might reveal to us how it all holds together.

In between there are our lives, our stories, our births and losses, our heartbreaks and moments of glory, our finest pleasures, our most intimate relationships, our meditations on the lake shore just after dawn.

What pain can do is shatter our defenses and make us vulnerable again. And when we soften like that, instead of rushing to the surface and then strengthening the ramparts around our hearts, we can do what Reynolds wrote:
"In using the pain of our own lives and that which we see in others to fuel our writing, we not only teach ourselves to feel compassion, but we also learn to craft stories that house the most authentic of all emotions and actions: love. And who would daresay that a writer could write without love? While Gardner is right that art begins with a wound, we might add that it ends with a way forward—a crack where hope seeps in."

Would any of us reading this now question that our world could use a few more cracks for hope to seep in? That begins in embracing the wounds of our life stories and of our world. It's an old wisdom that we can only experience joy to the extent that we are capable of experiencing pain. They are not separate. They are not "things," aspects or elements of life that can be weeded out, or one cultivated and the other not according to our wants and desires. Rather, they are what comes from our ability to be open to life, and we experience them to the measure that we are open. What they are is part of what it means to be alive.

More writers need to show us that...

Working on my cracks.

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