I’ve been a writer all my life, and a visual artist, too. When I was in private practice, I used creative tools with my psychotherapy clients, drawing from Jungian traditions, from global mythology, from creative arts of all kinds. From sand-tray to self-inquiry, my territory was the creative inner world.
And then my love drowned in front of me on an otherwise ordinary day.
Tell me, what use is it to rearrange mythic figures on a board when life has exploded that way? Where is the relevance of self-inquiry in the face of such reeling pain? A paintbrush is not going to solve anything.
There’s a deep cultural presumption that creating something out of grief somehow makes it all even out in the end. That your deepest call is to transform your grief into a work of art that touches others. That when you do that, when you turn to creative expression in the depths of pain, you are, in fact, healing your grief. Creativity is a way to transform pain. The results of your creativity, if they’re good enough, can help others transform their pain. It all works out.
But the truth is, there is no fair trade.
The truth is, pain, like love, needs expression. Some of us use words. Some paint. Some build, some invent, some serve. We are story-telling creatures.
Creative expression is part of me. It’s part of you. It’s in all of us.
That you make something beautiful and useful out of your pain, whether for yourself or others, is a wonderful thing. It’s a healing thing. But it’s not a prescription, and it won’t fix anything.
But the truth is, there is no fair trade.” —
(HT Cheryl Strayed)
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.
it wasn’t trying to touch a ghost. it wasn’t sex. it wasn’t your metal hands holding me through my night terrors. it wasn’t the robber who tried to stab the Black Madonna but fell to his knees. it wasn’t the fear that collapsed on me like Saint Mary of Czestochowa’s steeple while we shifted shapes in bed. it wasn’t a feeling. It wasn’t Simon Joyner’s yellow bird outside your window. it wasn’t me. it wasn’t riding the subway all night, blinking fluorescent lights wishing upon us. it wasn’t Jesse Morris, a San Francisco punk rocker who committed suicide. it wasn’t you. it wasn’t Jesse’s well-known Johnny Cash covers. it wasn’t a ticking watch. it wasn’t the gravel that collected like ashes in an urn. it wasn’t love. it wasn’t the hobo playing Johnny Cash in the subway station. it wasn’t that you stopped to listen. it wasn’t a sleeping city sidewalk being scorched by morning sun. the most beautiful time of day is when I can sit on my roof and see both the moon and the sun sharing the same sky. it wasn’t day or night. a woman captured a video of every brick raining down on the demolisher like a baptism. the sun and the moon were ripped away from each other while they passed through the same hemisphere. it wasn’t a romance. the steeple swayed like sickness. the yellow bird flies into a window. we didn’t understand. it wasn’t motionless, the contrail of an airplane overhead. like the kind we used to watch take off and land, not wishing to be either— not wanting to be coming or going.
you and I move like objects in a room,
replacing spaces. rearrange the furniture
and what was once familiar, becomes strange
new. I walk around the neighborhood
at night and look
at the houses I’ve slept in,
thinking that I used to know their insides.
tell me about your guts. tell me the
stories you hear from the nail holes
in the hall. we put our ears where
the pictures used to hang on summer
days when the windows were open.
I hear a phone ring inside of another
house. we are alone here, but not
alone. I trace you back to your source
as we dance around the bedroom, like
specks of dust. we cover everything.
tell me what you do with the spaces
inside of you. tell me your name. I
want to know how it is to be filled.
last night I met a kid wearing a Ramones shirt and we talked about punk music and the working class and at one point he told me we should throw our phones across the bar to smash them and we kept dropping them from our stools but neither of us had the balls to actually break them and now I really wish we did