Tuesday, January 8, 2013

When There's A Ball and Chain On Your Pen

Smiley Versus Skull, Mar Vista, LA, January 2013

I have for your reading consideration another writing by a student of mine. This was in response to my "intention prompt" for the last of our session together. This student has been writing with me for a couple of years now, and has grown, frankly, leaps and bounds. She came in ready to break open the division between her inner logical self and inner artist, and in addition to my classes has done many other courses with local folks who do complementary work to mine (dance, drawing, etc).

Her reading lead to a very important conversation - the beginning of it, anyway - about how we treat trauma in writing, when we are airing our shameful laundry and when we are simply witnessing or processing, and when airing laundry is what is needed. Anyway, without further ado, I'll simply post what she wrote. It's very good and pithy, and hopefully, a provocative addition to the conversation I started here in this blog.

Comments are welcome! And thanks again to this student for her relentless but gentle exploration of personal process. It benefits us all, even when we feel awkward about asking these questions.
“Empty” is the word that came up before Miriam finished reading the prompt.  Its a word for all years.  It’s a good word, a good place to be.  It’s positive, it’s happy, it’s a vessel to fill with joy and color.

I get the strong feeling sometimes that what I need to do is empty myself.  That this is the cure for feeling bottled up, encumbered with secrets, and that until I divest myself publicly of all my sins I’ll never be authentic, I’ll always be hiding something, I’ll always be dishonest. 

Recently, I’ve felt otherwise.  That this urge to spill all the dirty details is just shame disguised as honesty.  That it’s too easy to believe that a public confession of the gory details of my perceived failures in life will somehow be ultimately freeing.  How many days have I spent sitting in this writing class wondering when I’ll ever have the guts to spell out my particular set of lapses and addictions, losses and indulgences, mistraveled paths and roads not taken?  That it’s all about hiding is what it seems to be not about.

Why not write from the open space, the lovely EMPTINESS that has opened up like a well, deep and blue, peopled with stars of gold, with millions of silent voices urging me on to fling color, to rhyme words at odd angles, to paint over portraits with my own vision, to speak out and listen to the ringing of my own voice across vast spaces that until recently were not accessible, were out of reach behind tall fences topped with barbed and electrified guard dogs of shame and self denial and self doubt.

I’m not really that interested in the personal details of other peoples’ dark journeys -- well, okay, maybe in a voyeuristic way -- but what is illuminating about their journeys is the energy they write about them with, and where that energy takes them.  That’s where the value lies. 

So, I’m thinking NOW that this urge of several years to spill it all, describe each shard as if it had something important to reflect back, is a red herring, or WORSE, it’s a continuation, it’s the same, same old, it’s the trick where I act out of contrition, I air my smelly undies, display the embarrassing stains, describe the specific muscle weaknesses that allowed various spiritual and moral sphincters to loosen and it’s all really just prostration in public before the SAME FALSE GODS, FALSE DEMONS that I bowed down to during my secret life in the darkness.

That’s not freedom.  That’s writing with a ball and chain on this pen.  Jump into the emptiness!  I know this is right, this is true, even though it’s so slippery I can hardly keep it on this page.

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