Escaping into Ourselves

January 12, 2012 § 1 Comment

When I was little, I loved reading because I could ‘escape’ into the world of the book. Bullies at school, screaming fights at home and the loneliness weighing down my heart all disappeared, to be replaced by Harry Potter’s fight against evil or Matilda’s magical adventures. Whenever things got hard, I reached for a comfort book (just like my roommate now might reach for Ben and Jerry’s.) It wasn’t just when my life outside fell apart that I started thumbing through the volumes on my bookshelf. More than hiding from the world, I liked to hide from myself in a book. Completely concerned for the fate of the characters on the page, I was momentarily saved from examining the dark recesses of my mind. I became absorbed with their trials, their emotions, their pasts, so that I could run from my own.

In many ways, it was the same with my writing. Whatever was happening in my present ceased to exist as I became more deeply immersed in the story I was telling. I was creating a different world than this one, different lives, different situations, different struggles. The more I went into that new world, the more it felt like my actual one. Things in the world of my story were in my control. Things in my actual life often were not.

There has always been praise for this ‘escape’ aspect of reading and writing. Readers love taking that vacation, engaging in the journey of someone other than themselves. In a way, readers love meeting someone new through the main character, becoming so close they are allowed access to that character’s inner dialogue. Yes, books help us leave behind our worries and concerns or even just the monotony of everyday life. They take us somewhere entirely new.

But do they?

Whenever I read or write nowadays, I feel I am becoming closer to the core of my being, not farther away. I am developing a greater understanding of myself and my situation. Far from escaping, I am retreating into those recesses of my mind. This is not to suggest that books force me to think unwelcoming thoughts or in any way cause me pain, though they might. Rather, books make me think critically about who I am, how I feel, and what I do. Books help me get to know myself in intimate ways. They help things make sense. And this is because books are written by people trying to make sense of themselves and their worlds. And because books are read by people trying to figure out the same thing.

So if we are escaping, we are escaping into ourselves. Our imaginations may be traveling to far away places, but another part of us is examining ourselves in a whole new light. Guided by the author’s words, we feel the throbbing of our souls. We see ourselves. And we turn the page to find out what happens to us next. Hope and belief keep us glued to the page. What will we discover about ourselves? Will we learn The Answers?

There’s only one way to find out. And after that, there’s always another book.

Beauty

January 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve always been drawn to the awe-inspiring, the incredible beauty that makes me suddenly aware of the rhythmic beating of my heart, the pulsing of my ever-streaming thoughts and the quiet places in my soul. I find as I go through life that I stumble upon It in many seemingly unrelated forms, all invisibly and powerfully connected. I’ve seen It in the simple and genuine truth of my little sister. The face of an old man as he rests on a park bench. Someone’s footprints in the snow on the rocky edge of the Grand Canyon. The ocean’s unrestrained rage during a hurricane and its peacefulness on a January afternoon. A dewey autumn leaf clinging to the branch at the end of a life.

I used to really search for this beauty. A part of me yearns for it, screams for it, cries for it. I looked because I wanted to understand. I wanted to ground what I saw in my life, my reality, my words. I wanted to know It inside and out. A dictionary definition. Beauty started to become painful. I’d try so hard to internalize everything…the way sunsets dye the crests of waves pink and orange, the way a child falls and jumps right back up again, the scenic route of a highway. I memorized details, faces, names. I read the supposed great novels of all time and broke down every sentence, every word to fully understand the author’s voice. Days were exhausting and still the essence of It escaped me. I was convinced I wouldn’t be a true artist or the best form of myself until I Knew. Knew It.

I am now only starting to realize that try as I might, I will not be able to gain control over the uncontrollable, understand what cannot be understood. But because I am an artist, I will try, no matter how fruitless the fight. We cannot help ourselves.We develop love-hate relationships with the millions upon millions pockets of beauty to be discovered. Because Beauty brings wonder and joy, but also longing and frustration. We may not be able to ever really put into words the way we feel, the way something looked, the way he felt. But we can get close.

The truth is, understanding Beauty means not understanding it. It means knowing your human limitations. It’s sitting in the sand and watching the waves and having that be enough. It’s feeling. It’s being. And it’s continuing to wonder.

 

 

Why do we write?

January 8, 2012 § 1 Comment

I realize this is a bit of an abstract question, but I can be a bit of an abstract person. So, why do we write? What draws us to the page? What do we get out of writing that we don’t get somewhere else?

There are, obviously, a lot of different answers. I personally find “to express myself” a bit simplistic. What does that even mean? What exactly are we expressing? Is Stephen King “expressing himself” in Carrie? Maybe, maybe not.

Writers do, in my opinion, feel the intense need to say something. We feel it important to get our message out there. We both write for ourselves and for others. Whenever I sit down to write, I want to explore something-maybe how lonely the human experience can be, how we connect to others, how people come to know themselves in relation to the world around them, how we make sense of our life situations, what we fear, what we cherish, and why. I always have so many questions, questions I discuss with people close to me who are also prone to wondering. While I have a deep appreciation for these conversations, there is something about actually connecting pen to paper that I value even more. I feel as if I’ve done something with all that thought instead of just getting lost in it. I’ve created something, made the confusion in my head into something with substance.

Often what I ponder I have difficulty articulating, but when I write, when I get into that oh-so-highly-prized “zone”, suddenly the words are flowing better than I could have imagined. Right before my eyes ideas are manifesting themselves, ideas I am sometimes startled to see because I wasn’t consciously putting them there. I don’t know if this is something other writers experience, but I often start writing about one thing, and then, very subtlety, the control shifts. The piece begins to hold the authority, and I choose to follow where it leads. It is possible to redirect the way, but every time I have done this, the results are messy and unappealing. Stephen King wrote something similar regarding this phenomenon in On Writing, arguing that writers set the stage and then essentially sit back and watch what happens. You start out with a general sketch and then once you start writing, things inevitably change. Why? You could say your ideas have changed, but I find it is more likely that you are realizing what exactly your original idea was. I start writing and suddenly I realize what it is I’m saying. It’s sort of magical. I read over what I’ve written, what’s come from my own mind and heart, and it’s like I’m learning something I never knew…but part of me most certainly did.

But that’s not good writing! That’s rambling! That’s a lack of focus, that’s riding on a train to nowhere! Your inner trained writer panics. I used to have these same concerns, and often still do. Each time I started a new piece, I fought to know exactly what I was saying. If my story started to lead somewhere else, I pushed it back on the first path. The more I continued down that first line of thought while my story tugged in the other direction, the more confused I became about what I was saying and the harder I tried to make it look nice. I’d lose my reader, lose my characters, and lose my confidence. Don’t be intimidated. Liberate yourself. Go where your story leads. Believe in yourself enough as a writer to let go. Wonderful things can happen! When you’re revising, look for crucial moments where you may have hesitated about where to go next. Did you go by instinct, or by Plan A? Write two drafts (or multiple) and compare. What works?

So maybe what we get out of writing, when you boil it down, is understanding. Deeper and more complete understanding of what we wish to communicate to others. Deeper understanding not even of the answers, but of the questions. Maybe “expressing yourself” really means watching that secret part of you, secret even to yourself, unfold so easily on the page. We are drawn to the magic of writing, of not knowing what will happen when we sit down at the desk today, of what will be discovered. There is thrill, there is excitement, and there is undeniable wonder.

Lost

January 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Here’s another original, written in the middle of the night. Nobody ever said inspiration was convenient. In these short pieces I usually explore a feeling, a thought, a question, a memory. They are far from perfect-just little pieces, scribblings almost. Every time while I am writing these, or shortly afterwards, I come to realize something I was blind to at the onset. It’s very fulfilling and exciting to start with a vague set of ideas and end with a clearer understanding of myself, someone else, or this life. I am really deep in a process of discovery as I write, moving right along with my reader.

My style has become very flowy of late-long sentences, some fragments and repeats. I don’t really question it. My style has always been subject to change. It is what it needs to be to communicate the particular story. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to leave any feedback, questions or comments.

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When I was a little girl, I used to like to disappear.

There was something exhilarating about getting lost. Comforting, even. I would sneak upstairs to my parents’ room, creak open the closet door and steal away inside, pushing through my father’s suit jackets and my mother’s neatly ironed sweaters. I breathed in that smell of quiet places, untouched places, where the air is so still it rings in your ears and all that exists is weighty silence. Dust glittered in the dim glow from the naked bulb above me, particles of nothingness reverberating with that hollow sound of undisturbed quiet. Everything from old drawings for Mother’s Day, an abandoned earring, a yellowing report card, all existed in a separate reality, a reality far from all the pain and confusion of a little girl’s life. As I sat underneath that dim glow, arms wrapped around my knobby little knees, that silence ringing in my ears, I tried to melt away. I wanted to be like these insignificant things, tossed away to the remote corners of the world where there is nothing. Nothing. Silence.

But I couldn’t.

Because downstairs I could still hear my mother and father yelling, and everybody crying, and doors slamming and I could smell bacon burning and there was the dump truck slushing by in the snow. Because it might have been muffled but life was outside the closet door. And as much as I wanted to disappear into the still air, I couldn’t fit into the Nothing. My heart was beating far too loudly and even my small frame was far too bulky and my soul was far too alive.

So I would slip out and reenter my world and work hard to stop my thoughts, to not feel, to be nothing at all. I moved and smiled and laughed and spoke while the rest of me drifted somewhere far away. I stopped hearing my mother crying and my father yelling and my older sister screaming and my little sister asking why. I stopped seeing the way the morning sun sparkled night rain puddles or the way worry had tired my mother’s pretty face. I tried with all my might to make nothing real, and when I could I would sneak away to the quiet and close my eyes and stop my heart and hold my breath and wait. And wait. To disappear. But each time my body fought me, my lungs would scream and my heart resisted and I’d exhale, watching my breath, that signifier of life, disturb the silent air. My heart would be hammering in my chest and tears would be streaming down my face and I was a little girl hidden away in the closet and whether I liked it or not I was there. Alive. Alive.

I was a little girl when I climbed out from the back of that closet for the last time, but I was a much bigger girl when I stopped existing and started living. When I embraced my life, my humanity instead of running in the other direction and wishing for anything, anything else. Sometimes I am still tempted by Nothing, where all the beauty of happiness and the stab of sorrow are forgotten, where my heart doesn’t have to ache for my mother’s illness or the lost love and my mind is relieved of all the thoughts, the questions, the memories.

But

Life will find you no matter where you are, even if its in the back of your parent’s closet in your childhood home.

So now I let the fire into my heart.

Sometimes it warms.

Sometimes it burns.

Sometimes it devours.

But it cannot, cannot be put out.

It burns.

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Where Am I?

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