When I think of heaven(Deliver me in a black-winged bird)
I think of flying down into a sea of pens and feathers
and all other instruments of faith and sex and God
In the belly of a black-winged bird – Counting Crows, “Rain King”*
For many years, indeed for most of my life, I associated writing with pain. I saw it as an outlet, a method of slitting the wrists of my anger and hurt and letting all of the poison in my system out on the page. I believed that in order to be a great writer, I had to bleed words. I had no concept of writing as a joyful act.
I wrote some beautiful and lyrical poems and prose during that time in my life. When I take it out to read it, I ache. Readers would too, in all the right ways. I never had a problem with tapping the root of the Tree of Evil to get what I wanted.
The side effect of this method of writing, though, is the necessity of being in a state of anger, or hurt, and generally living on the lip of suicidal thoughts and tendencies. I don’t look emo, but I was emo way before it was cool. I believed that I couldn’t write my stories if I was happy. I struggled with a need to treat depression and anxiety in order to survive as a person, and a profound resistance to that change because I believed that I would lose my ability to write.
Mama, why am I so alone?
I can’t go outside
I’m scared I might not make it home
I’m alive but I’m sinking in
If there’s anyone at home at your place
Why don’t you invite me in
Don’t try to bleed me
I’ve been there before and I deserve a little more
I finally reached a point when I was so unhappy, so near allowing myself to hit the re-set button on life, that I decided that I was willing to give up writing if it would mean that I could keep on living, that I could get up and face every day with something other than unhappiness in my chest.
I thought that the price of my life was a sacrifice of my art.
For a while, I let myself believe that there were other dreams to pursue. But inside, there was always the little girl who loved writing stories on her mom’s IBM Selectric typewriter, and that little girl was always asking me, “When can we write again?”
Hey, I only want the same as anyone
Henderson is waiting for the sun
Oh, it seems night endlessly begins and ends
After all the dreaming I come home again…
So I tried writing in happiness. And here’s where I was surprised, because that emotion poured forth on the page, too. For the first time since I was a very small girl, I was able to write stories and poems of hope and joy. I could see that the Tree of Evil had another side after all, and I tapped into that root of happiness.
This discovery fed my WHOLE life, not just my writing life. I saw that light and shadow really could live inside one person, reside side by side, and feed my art.
When I think of heaven (Deliver me in a black-winged bird)
I think of dying Lay me down in a field of flame and heather
Render up my body into the burning heart of God in the belly of a black-winged bird
Don’t try to bleed me
I’ve been here before and I deserve a little more
I don’t have to bleed for my art, at least not most of the time. I have gone that route, learned the pitfalls of it. I can draw maps through the minefield of depression-based writing, and manage to walk through it rather than becoming mired in the emotion. The same goes for joy. I learned that I deserved more out of life, and more out of expressing myself through writing, than I was getting living in that deep well of doubt and fear. It has enabled me to write playful scenes, and scenes of trust and friendship, that I would have never been able to touch before. They balance out the scenes of terror and anger, making my characters more true to life. My characters can reflect the truth of MY experiences, in all the complexity of a real life fully lived.
*This song is one of my favorites, and reflects much of how I feel about creativity and life and death. I think Adam Duritz, the writer of this song and the lead singer of Counting Crows, has a crazy sexy, lickable brain and I bow to his ability to express so much in a few words. From most accounts of his life, it’s obvious he’s walked some dark roads too, but that he’s always looking for that light.