Friday, 17 February 2012

Making All Things New, Part II: Writing with Heart

Look at what’s happening in this world. Every day there’s something exciting or disturbing to write about. With all that going on, how could I stop?

I’m often asked how I can spend so much time writing or attending to the business end of writing. I could call myself a workaholic, but I think the answer is more complex. I feel a passion for writing and everything related to the pastime. Im also fortunate to be able to integrate my passion with making a living. I even enjoy the marketing and PR aspects of a writing career that many authors loathe.

In other words, I am committed with a capital C and engaged with a capital E, and can barely pull myself away from my laptop at the end of the day. Sometimes I dont pull myself away from my laptop at the end of the day . . . I fall asleep with it near my side.

The act of writing itself, especially from the heart, is a state of grace made manifest when we live in the moment with our senses wide open. This creative state is meditative, perhaps even meditation in motion. This makes writing sound easy enough – as poet Gwendolyn Brooks suggests, there’s an endless flow of inspiration all around us. We can explore anything from the flavor of the day’s weather to the flavor of the day’s politics and never, ever run out of topics to write about.

Brooks, the first black author to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first black woman to hold the position of Poetry Consultant to the U.S. Library of Congress, also suggests in her work and her observations about life that because we exist is reason enough to write. The English word exist is derived from the Latin term existere, which means “to emerge” or “to stand forth” – and the prefix ex- equals element,  meaning “out of” or “from,”  as well as “appear” or “be.” 

We exist, and the meaning of our existence manifests from that which appears around us, therefore we write!

So, when we writers sit and tap our pencils over a blank page or sit and stare at a blank page on our screens wondering what to write, it’s simply a matter of tapping into the heart, that impassioned space from which we must extract our freshest and most sincere work. Ultimately, we scribes write what begs to be written, what our psyches must either define or celebrate.

We live in interesting times, an era of great social and political ferment marked by increasing disruption in our social fabric, a time of transition, but at great peril. Of course, these divisions and flaws have always been present, even though illusory in the bigger cosmic picture. There really is no separation between races, religions, fair weather or foul, disappearing or thriving species, or anything else – we are all part and parcel of this ever-changing, impermanent, kaleidoscopic production we call reality. But the illusion of all these divisions and categories is what gives us a plethora of contrasts and conflicts to explore in our prose and poetry.

Lately – for the past couple of years, really, I’ve been  more captivated by the dramas unfolding around me in real life than in reading fiction. I find myself reading scores of articles and essays relating to the great issues of our day and find that my conversations (and sometimes arguments) with others, writers and non-writers alike, are mostly about these issues. I am astounded by the recent reappearance of virulent racist and misogynist rhetoric that seems to have festered underground, and emerged in more subtle, devious, and pervasive ways in the U.S. since our Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s addressed these blights upon our common humanity.

We can maybe take comfort in the idea that these attitudes are surfacing as they are cleansed away forever. But what astounds me most is that these negative attitudes are not only expressed by older generations whom you might expect would cling to old ways, but are instead embraced and repeated by younger people who have not directly experienced our nation’s historical struggles with constitutional, civil rights, and yet should have learned these lessons from their elders and through their reading, and know better than to embrace poisonous rhetoric.

Ah, but that may be the problem – many are not reading – they, no, we  live in the bubble world of mainstream media and social media. Many are not engaging with the great novelists and journalists of the past or the present, preferring instead to socialize only with peers who have similar views, emulating the memes and tropes of the group. Limited engagement with the arts equals limited engagement with the real world, and vice versa. More and more, people live in these bubbles of selective understanding. Even Google gauges what we want to see and gives us an incomplete overview of any search.

My fascination with these disturbing political and social trends (and many others) has apparently driven me to delve more deeply into creative nonfiction and to blog, something uncharacteristic for me as a long-time poet and fiction writer. I preferred up until lately to explore my life and my interests through the lens of make-believe, which is no less powerful and sometimes even more so. What reader hasn't been challenged and transformed by a powerful novel? Fiction also allows authors the safe haven of anonymity, since readers has no idea what part of a story is derived from personal life experience or what is fabricated. Revealing events and feelings as nonfiction requires taking the risk of condemnation by revealing oneself.

The writing process in  dissimilar genres is still the same, though. We can lure the realities of life into our art, and lure our art back into real life. What we offer to readers completes a cycle, this circumnabulation of mirroring back and forth the meaning of life that we explore by writing and our audience by reading.

Whether we transform current issues into compelling fiction and poetry or creative nonfiction or straight journalism, we have a responsibility to do this in a moving way. Literature of all sorts must engage the reader fully in the author’s mental journey, or why bother to write about these journeys?

Whether we choose to reflect upon the pressing issues that face a small planet with seven billion people, or choose instead to explore profound pleasantries about the two sun-yellow African daisies that just bloomed in a chipped clay pot on our front patio, it’s the heart stuff that makes our writing come alive. It’s the passion we channel into our writing that matters.

When we become confused about what to write, we need only to look into our hearts to find the passion that cries out to be shared. When we don’t know what to read, the same thing applies – what cries out for comprehension?

What do we really want to understand, to “stand under?” These are the things worth reading and writing about!

Engaged Concentration: Holyhead, Wales
Kate Robinson ©2010