The sound of rain falling downward through the darkness renders the night into a liquid thing as I sit writing. The porch is a damp, golden cave in the lamplight, and all around me, the world sleeps. Somewhere in the distance, the September moon breaks through the turbulent ranges, silvering their blooming contours with her light. The songs of crickets layer themselves over the fluid monotone of rain and the occasional rumble of thunder.
The Strange Hours of the Heart
I keep odd time these days, sleeping in snatches, extended naps, only to wake with new ideas bubbling forth from an unseen place within me, demanding to be given flesh in the form of written words that will become as vividly alive to you, who now read them, as they were within me. To be sure, when I write here, what I’m giving you could be considered as draft work. Yes, changes will be made, errors of grammar, spelling, and awkward phrasing smoothed out afterward. But I value rawness so very much, and in a way, sending these thoughts out into the world in as pure a state as I can is a form of integrity.
Will they always be the best way I could have communicated a point? Will I revisit ideas, themes, and even phrases in future? The answers are ‘no’ and ‘yes’ respectively. But here, we share moments that cannot be wholly reclaimed once they have passed, and I think it’s somehow very important to give them with a whole sincerity, a freshness that lives for you as it does for me. They are the doorway to my consciousness, to my Self. And perhaps there is no greater gift any writer can grant their readers than the pure product of their experience, before it’s been kneaded into submission–rested, risen, baked into something else entirely.
I keep the hours of this rawness, this human need to touch and shape, whether those around me understand the need that pricks me like a hidden needle among the bedclothes.
Doorways Leading to the Eternal Present
All art, irrespective of medium or genre, functions as a means of communicating meaning to those who were not involved in either the moments of its creation or the experiences that spurred the need to create. It is a doorway to the experience of Life, an access point to deeper meanings hidden beneath pigments or polychrome, or the language of a constructed narrative. For the visual arts, including dance, the communication of this meaning becomes a bit of a muddy prospect. The subjective experience of art is a notorious ground of contention in the art world. But with writing, this is still the case–we each find different ways into a narrative, tying bits of a story or an article to anchoring points of experience already within us.
What I have spent the most energy on in the exercise of this craft is finding a way to invite you into my head, into a moment, to welcome you to participate in the experience of a character or myself. This is important to me, that you be able to borrow my work and wear it as your own. I find that when I read the work of many writers new to the field, what they lack is this doorway. Much like Henri Matisse, we must always leave an escape into the emptiness of the border space. It is the way in which we allow you access and egress to a world fabricated entirely of arbitrary symbols. Without it, that world can feel confusing, alien, unwarm. It is a thing that has no life or movement for the uninvolved reader, and that is where we fail our reader most often, most severely.
“You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.” ~Anais Nin
The Role of Emotional Messiness
I am a perfectionist about many things. I do not wish to be seen to not be excellent at any task I undertake. Here is my Ego. I wish to be acknowledged as accomplished, even when I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. Even so, I hide behind false modesty and the emotional armor of self-denigration, because I fear the pedestal I referred to in the last segment. I fear it almost as much as being seen in an emotionally or creatively naked state, a vulnerable position that all neophytes must assume. And so, there is ever a tension within me–the urge to be seen as real and deeply knowable, but also the need never to betray my own ignorance or vulnerability.
When I am undone emotionally or psychologically, I hide away. I can’t be seen without my “face” on. But in a way, this is where my dishonesty lives most frequently. I am not a perfect creature, perpetually in control, always aware or understanding or cruel. These past months have been much littered with realizations and lessons. Among them is the understanding that my human messiness is a perfect portal to knowing me, but it is one I have often denied people, never revealing a hurt until it was a thing of the dead past–buried, mourned over, reconciled. This, too, is likely one of the things that distances me from you.
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” ~Robert Frost
Mr. Frost’s quote is perhaps especially appropriate here. We have all experienced hurt, anger, love, sweetness, disappointment, and the strength of purpose that seemingly comes from nowhere. But unless I am willing to give you the keys I hold in the form of these emotional moments, you’re never going to be able to access my writing as anything but an object of art that must never be touched or experienced. It cannot be brought close in comfort, knowing that someone–at least one other human being–has felt as you do right now. It is the difference between a photographic composition that is aesthetically perfect–truly beautiful, but inert and boring–and one in which the photographer has invested his or her own personality in the frame, even while they remain out of the shot.
They are present in the moment. You can feel that the piece they created has meaning for them, moves them in some way. And so, I write this blog–blunt, often narrowly focused in a way that may hit you all wrong, or touching the still-tender scar tissue of past events that have come with me into the present. It is, in a way, the text equivalent of my insistence that I dance–badly–if I feel moved to do so. You are welcome to look away, but whether you find me an object of scorn or hilarity, or maybe even oddly beautiful at moments, you’ve witnessed me as I am, without pretense. You have seen the human being behind the mask.
The Craft as Absolution
Those of you who are writers may understand this on a more personal level than the individuals who are not, but every human being will grasp it to some extent. Writing, creating, is a legendary form of catharsis, which refers to emotional release. For me, I find that the act of writing, as I am doing here, pushes beyond the boundary of that common understanding.
By framing my thoughts around a point, structuring a narrative–whether fiction or memoir–I enter into an active exploration of the meaning, logic, and underlying foundation of my emotional response to the world. I enter into a social contract with the reader, which is backed by an act of confession and one of absolution.
As I have said before, the emotional cosmos often operates along slightly different rules than that which is governed by the laws of logic and rationality. It is a fecund and wild space that often exhibits forms for which the rational universe has yet to create a frame of logic to encase. It is unpredictable, feral, sloppy, erratic, and utterly fierce. There have been times when my immediate emotional response confused me or even frightened me in its intensity. These are usually times when damage was done, either by myself or by someone else.
Writing functions as a way to access that universe, that cosmic soup of emotional symbols, themes, and erratic, momentary creations and render them into a form of communication that can be understood, by myself and others. That I choose to use words as my primary tool makes no difference. The artistic temperament–and in many ways, the artist themselves–functions as an intermediary between the known, Apollonian world, and the Cthonian deeps of the human soul. We are at once creators and craftspeople, generators of meaning and form. We function as both interpreters and explorers, and we have been working with human soul-stuff since before writing was invented.
In many ways, writers have more in common with musicians than with any other type of artist-inhabited medium. But that’s another subject, from another segment, and the 3 a.m. bell is calling me to my bed. So I will leave this segment on the incomplete, uncertain note. I will leave you to contemplate the meaning behind the satisfaction we find in balance by taking your balance away from you. Pleasant dreams.
“When we totally accept a pattern not made by us, not truly our own, we wither and die. People’s conventional structure is often a façade. Under the most rigid conventionality there is often an individual, a human being with original thoughts or inventive fantasy, which he does not dare expose for fear of ridicule, and this is what the writer and artist are willing to do for us. They are guides and map makers to greater sincerity. They are useful, in fact indispensable, to the community. They keep before our eyes the variations which make human beings so interesting.” ~Anais Nin