If Pain Makes for Good Art, Why Am I Not Knee-Deep in Novels?
I’ve been reading a lot about consciousness lately. Most of what I find is that the part of ourselves that mans the controls, the part that we hear talking all day, which we call “I,” doesn’t really know what’s going on. It’s basically there to remind you that a saber tooth tiger can hear you stepping on a twig. It’s not there to compile lists of terminal illnesses that your sudden symptoms could be a sign of, or to create the most elaborate hypothetical revenge schemes for your husband’s other woman. Yet, this is what most of us are using it for now that our lives aren’t bent around survival, survival, survival. We abuse our ability to think by never letting up—trying to think our way out of a situation or allowing our thoughts to help us bask in misery. We are, in turn, abused by our own ability, finding ourselves pacing the rooms of our minds for hours.
However, there is a smaller voice shouting, although it sometimes seems so muffled when I go through hard times. It wants to pick up a pen or pluck at a guitar. It wants to take the hard and heavy life event that hurts and mangles my emotions and turn it into something consistent and beautiful that you can hold at an arm’s length and look at like the tiny piece of dazzling reality that it is. It is shouting at you to make art, but, your internal drone won’t shut up about how you look, who likes you, what’s wrong with you, what’s right with you, why your life is worse or better than everyone’s around you, and it doesn’t think it’s a good idea to turn the scary things into beautiful things. It thinks you’re too tired. It thinks you’re too busy dealing with the big and the bad. It decides to go to a bar, to watch a show, to smoke a cigarette, to sit scrolling on your cell phone for twenty minutes after you park in your driveway because your gumption for living is so stagnant. And it just gets worse and worse until some part of that muffled shout echoes through to that inner part of you that’s silent. Do you think about the fact that if you’re thinking thoughts to yourself, there’s another part of you that must be listening? I think that’s also the part that paints your canvasses, or writes the tunes you hum while you wash the dishes. Right now, it’s the part of me that’s writing this sentence.
Whenever someone close to me reads something I’ve written for the first time, they seem confused. Who put these words on the page, they seem to wonder, because it certainly couldn’t be this girl I know, the one who spills things and whines about telemarketers and listens to a lot of bad pop songs unironically. And to be honest, the person writing this isn’t the same person who speaks and acts and moves all around this pretty little globe of ours. That’s psychology, I promise, I read it in a book. There are all these regions of my brain, and your brain, making up the person that I am to others. Key words being “making up.” This amalgamation of quirks that I present to friends and family and strangers is random, generated by genetics and life experiences that I had no control over. That’s all anyone’s outward personality is. That’s not the part of you that’s starstuff.
Your personality could be shining, gleaming, bubbling, rushing like a deep blue river, or it could be choppy, dusky, spiky, bristling. It doesn’t matter. Something else switches on when you move yourself to create. A quiet part of you takes over, and it’s the listening part that’s always hushed, waiting to get a word in edgewise while your internal monologue runneth thoughts over. Many folks don’t even recognize their own writing when enough time goes by between creating it and rereading it. Why? Because it’s a concealed voice that uses the page to speak. Thankfully, that voice is just far enough from your overworked I to give your I some of the wisdom inherent to just being. It’s not saying anything that makes your I voice suddenly get why life is raining lemon juice all over you, but it reminds you that you’re on a rock in space, with trees and air and friends, and you shouldn’t take any of it too seriously. It reminds you that you get one second to live, over and over and over again.
Hard times can’t really even exist when you’re in that mode. Pain makes it hard to start, that’s all. But once you start it’s like a boulder tumbling down a hill. Today, quiet down that big booming voice telling your metaphorical Dorothy to go away. Let the person behind the curtain come out of the booth and write some poetry.