“Observing that there’s always something of value in a piece of writing, Matson encourages his students to trust their creative impulses.” (East Bay Express, 2006)
Assessing what’s of value may be chancy, since we filter out so many impulses in our writing lives, and advanced writers filter out more. They’ve learned what works for them and what doesn’t. But when we’re on a developmental spurt, or when we’re beginning, it’s useful to have no filters.
“It feels like vomit. Just vomit!” one beginning writer stated, and then added, “That’s when I know I’m doing well! There’s vomit all over the page.”
This is extreme, and the slightest tinge should remind us that writing may be neither mild nor safe. Violent and soul-wrenching forces lurk beneath our words. The image speaks both to how much we have invested in our day-to-day personality and to how much that personality may differ from our authentic self. We could be committing a huge amount of energy to maintain a fiction.
It took forty years or so for me to work through self-images and allow the Chalcedony poems to emerge. My journey is not a smooth one, more like a wiggly trail, being a hipster, an intellectual, a political radical, a lay psychologist, an ordinary male – I don’t remember what all, on the way to the raw honesty and full passion of Chalcedony’s voice.
The question, “Why so vulnerable?” doesn’t have a single answer. When it’s asked, though, the territory displays its ubiquity and its difficulties. Integrating our authentic self, which probably includes some of what psychologists call “the excluded self,” can release as much pain as it is possible for any human being to feel.
That’s only the beginning. In Western culture, with its emphasis on linearity, human myths have been submerged, though of course they’re operating as strongly as ever – in the strata beneath our awareness. They evolved over thousands of years and express the stories we’re born to fulfill or born to contest. As we write, they send chunks of energy through our bodies and onto the page.
This could expose us to the total sum of historical pain, to as much human pain as exists. How to deal with it is an individual problem, and changing the twelve-step maxim “one day at a time” to “one breath at a time” is helpful to me. If we accept some of our vulnerability as valuable, or link it to a mythological source, we continue our development. The beginning writer did just that, acknowledging the feeling and recognizing that it means she’s doing well.
David Whyte asks if vulnerability and humility are close first cousins. He suggests, “There is a lovely root to the word humiliation – from the Latin word humus, meaning soil or ground. When we are humiliated, we are in effect returning to the ground of our being.”
Is my journey painful? Yes, I go through a lot, humiliation and shame, as well as fear, and panic, along with a trembly astonishment when a glimpse comes through of the reward. The beauty we earn and inherit, when we finally start to become who we are.
Looking at the question from a positive angle, Don Miguel Ruiz comments in The Four Agreements: “Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive – the risk to be alive and express what we really are. Just being ourselves is the biggest fear of humans.”
(With help from Carrie Mercy, Lonner Holden, and Kalaena Pertofsky)