Thursday, January 19, 2017

Distraction, suppression, repression - curses of our times

I don't mean that kind where you have a tough time concentrating, lots of little things to do, restlessness, email and social media, oil changes, paying bills, daily life that becomes excuse for avoiding the blank page.

No, this is a deeper plague, a stress on the psyche, near daily trauma. For me, to sit down to write, to look at that page and get set to begin the words - I am almost afraid at times of the volcano of emotion within, of what might pour out - grief, rage, fear, profound disappointment and disillusionment - I fear the truth within me.

Also the danger of penetrating, life-altering insight, the kind that disturbs, that something huge is about to shift. And this is not your own singular volcano. It is bigger than you, a force in the field, something trying to break through. And the fear it could therefore shatter.

But shatter what? Ah, yes, you wish you knew exactly what the shattering would be, but it won't tell you that.

The frozen prairie. Pic: M Swedish
The comfort I have is knowing that I am not alone in this conundrum, certainly not among artists and writers. I had the privilege of spending much of a weekend this month with 16 other women writers and artists at a monastery in the Wisconsin prairie just west of Madison. These retreats are the beginnings of gathering some community together to share the creative journey and all that comes with it. The vulnerability was very moving, as was the realization that we all seem to feel that volcano rumbling inside.

There was no desire to tame it, rather to tap into it. We approach the crater's edge to peer down into the explosive about-to-burst energy from deep within for a reason - we know our creativity is rooted in there. We may fear the explosion, but, let's face it, we also want it.

Community, vulnerability, and solidarity create the safe space for us to own that energy, to realize its power, to also realize it is explosive in scary ways only because it has been suppressed and repressed for so long.

This feels like the times, to me. It feels like the energetic reality of a cultural orientation in the west that has fiercely repressed many of the most basic expressions or manifestations of what it means to be human. Just one example: allow sexuality, sexual energy, its freedom and a really scary thing could happen. You could discover that heterosexual coupling for life is not the norm, not an easy box into which to fit what we once understood to be two clear genders set that way by god himself, a relationship governed by religious belief rather than the passions and love of two people.

I mean, the reverberations have unsettled lots of people - not just because of what they now see in others, but what they see or intuit in themselves.

Or the "new cosmology" and the "new physics" that have upset the old religious belief systems based on an ancient cosmology we now know created lovely myths and stories but did not exactly describe the universe.

NASA - Chandra observatory
A lot of people still cling with a kind of desperation to these old belief systems that explained life, offered a framework of meaning that was comforting.

What happens when the force shatters all those frameworks? What happens if we come to realize that we really don't want to be "shoppers" and "consumers," that that is a form of mental illness and addiction which we came to believe was the norm, the framework, the given by which we operate in the world? What happens if collectively we let that go, looked at all our stuff and said, oh my god, what have we done, and started to get rid of it all?

Well, the Earth would cry with relief, for one thing. She could start to heal all the devastating damage done to her precious, complex ecosystems, which humans have done a fine job of shredding.

Maybe this is what you end up with after all this. Maybe what you get is this moment in the political culture. Maybe you get tumult and chaos and a boatload of fear. Also anger and the need to blame - to blame, um, whoever is channeling the new energy, whoever is helping to blast away what has repressed and suppressed truth for so long.

Like writers and other culture workers, like humanities teachers, like "foreigners" and people of "odd" cultures and religions.

The English feminist writer and columnist, Laurie Penny, writes: "Much of modern life is traumatic, unbearable, and profoundly frightening.”* And I believe this. The ecopsychologist Chellis Glendinning wrote many years ago that our psyches are not built for the world of steel, concrete, competition, and aggression that we have created and that we are being traumatized every time we walk out into it. Makes sense when you think about how irrational all that angry aggression is "out there." Who is everyone really fighting?

There is so much story in there, so many poems and essays. And on my good days I think maybe that can help, maybe finding them and writing them is one of the most important things we can do right now - drawing them, composing them.

I think the cultural work is crucial, critical, necessary, and urgent if we are to get ourselves through this enormous transition going on in the human community right now on a planet showing every sign there is of trauma, devastation, unraveling. Repression and suppression are not our allies, they are destroyers, from the inside out.

The book about the Athabasca River in Alberta, witnessing the narrative of global warming in a shrinking glacier, witnessing the devastation to boreal forests, the river, the First Nation peoples downriver from the tar sands industrial site, the connection of all that to our lives on a daily basis - fueling that daily trauma - I need to get that submitted and out into the world. And the poems, the essays that keep showing up, they need to be honored. Distraction, suppression, repression are their enemies. Truth, honesty, vulnerability, trust, a little passion - they deserve those things.

~ Margaret Swedish

* I found the Penny quote here:

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