For the past year or two I have been living with two impending deaths. One was natural, merciful and literal. The other was unnatural, tortured and figurative. Both have both come to pass.
I have been alive long enough to know that there is no way to anticipate or speed the grieving process. There is no way to shed grief but to endure it and to respect the truth of it. I am also aware that the trend these days is to encourage people to move on with their lives, or to otherwise ignore or distract themselves from grief — advice that is often proffered by friends and family who do not want to embrace the totality of loss, or the inevitability of mortality, in their own lives.
As I have watched myself move through this process in two instances, I have noticed that as a writer I do not have the tools to accurately describe what I am thinking and feeling. Were I authoring these events I would struggle greatly to communicate the totality of what I feel as a character.
The lesson here — the fiction writing lesson — is that this cannot be done. The craft of the writer is as much about reconnecting readers with vistas already observed as it is about describing vistas that have never been seen. (And in this is the difficulty of writing about life for young readers. Because they have so little of life’s experience to draw on, there is little that can be evoked.)
If there is a common core to every writer’s work, it is found in the intersection between what the author wants to express and what the author can evoke. This is true of love, of loss, of madness and of resolve. It can only truly be communicated if the reader already speaks the language.
I don’t know if I will ever write about my grief. I don’t know if I ever want to, or if in doing so I would have anything more to communicate than adding my voice to the human scream.
What I do know is that I know how. As I tread water and look for landmarks by which to orient myself, I find my craft sustaining me in ways I did not anticipate.
Writing is inextricably a part of who I am. It has always been my way of seeing and being.
And it is a constant reminder to go to the truth not simply in my work, but in my life. Even if that truth is grief.
— Mark Barrett
Well said Mark.
I get the feeling that my writing is inadequate in expressing what i feel all the time. I wish I could play the sax, fight, paint, anything else. Anything more visceral, more immediate and more real than words.
As you said though, we’re writer’s and it’s what we do. The power to convey our truest emotions is a little further away, but it’s there.
Good luck to you sir.
A few years ago I tried my hand at stained glass. I had a chance recently to revisit the one solitary work I created after learning the basics, and in looking at it again I felt as if I had realized something that was both important to me and more pure than anything that could be said.
I don’t intend to stop writing. I do intend to cut more glass.
Brent Robison says
To paraphrase the Tao, the writing that can be written is not the true writing. Everything at the deepest level of reality is beyond the capacity of language. I guess that makes us writers both foolish and noble to keep on trying as we do. But we are who we are, and to be true to that is life’s only real purpose.
Mark, you’re very wise to say “There is no way to shed grief but to endure it and to respect the truth of it.” I would only add that to actually embrace it may be best. Our emotions only have power over us to the degree that we resist them. Robert Bly has good stuff to say about this in his book “Iron John.” He might call this the period of ashes in your life.
I wish you all that is good as you go into and through this difficult passage. Peace…
The longer I persist at writing, the more wary I become of words.
The things that mean the most to me exist apart from language.
As a writer I also feel an obligation to use my powers for good — or at least in service of some small truth or insight, as opposed to generating cash at all costs. I also believe that entertainment is a full partner in this cause, and not a bastard child. To make someone laugh is not a small thing.
Don Doggett says
Grief can be a hard thing to put into words, because it’s a hole that can’t really be filled, only circled around or, if you’re lucky or very skilled, covered over over so you don’t fall in. The hole, however, doesn’t have to be barren, and there’s no need for the cover to conceal, and that’s where the beauty of writing comes in.