Monday, June 15, 2015

Writing as Solace

Ever get into a group of creative people and just listen?  I mean, really listen?  If you go to a place where creative types hang out (and I'm not talking about Starbucks...Nothing against them, but this is different) and actually engage your ears, you learn quite a bit about creative types. It doesn't matter whether their medium is paint, cloth, the stage or words, there are common traits amongst them all.  In a sense, they're all share one commonality that binds them together and allows them to write, paint,  act, or whatever. 

They're damaged. 

In some way, we all are.  In some way, large or small, we have issues.  That doesn't mean every artist has been raped or were abused children or were into self-harm or whatever.  It doesn't mean we're all alcoholics or drug users.  It just means that, somewhere in our past, something happened that left a lasting impression.  It might've been a lot of things.  It might've been just one.  This is not a condemnation, just an observation. If you doubt me, look at every famous creative person of which you know.  Look at all the great painters.  Look at all the greatest writers.  Moreover, look at yourself. 

The cracks are in you, not the glass...

Where do you draw from?  If, like me, you write horror, from what part of your psyche or soul do you pull the darkness, the blood, the tears, the pain?  What is the source of all the terrible things that flow out of your brain and into your fingers so you can inflict them upon the world?  What is it that drives you to be creative? 

I'm not a psychologist, and the point of this entry isn't to label every creative person as needing intensive therapy, though many of us do.  Most of us have learned coping mechanisms or have "gotten over it," whatever "it" was.  The point is this:

Use your art. 

I ran into a guy at a convention a while ago who wanted to be a writer.  He wrote for a while, but quite after a relatively short time.  When I asked him why, he said he was too depressed to write, too broken to create.  It struck a chord with me.  I asked him his genre, to which he replied horror.  We talked for a bit, then I asked him the big question:  "Why aren't you pouring those emotions into your work?  Why aren't you using that creative process as an outlet for your pain?"  He looked at me like I was crazy, which, admittedly, I'm used to.  

I can't imagine why...

Let me explain. 

Art is a world in which you, the artist, are God.  The world works the way you want it to, for the most part.  I mean, we still have to follow rules of silly things like physics (not always, but that's for another article), but for the most part, what we say goes.  We can take things like, say, an abusive relationship, and amplify it into a creature or metaphor where we can throw that pain on the page and kill it away.  We can make that pain eat, make it kill, make it fight, and make it die.  A painter can have an outpouring of emotion on the canvas through bold colors and long strokes of the brush.  Writers can solve all their personal issues in a world they create.  Whether that problem is a traumatic childhood, the death of a loved one, overcoming addiction, or deep depression, your art can help you.  

And not just by killing the metaphorical beast on the page.  For me, to put the pain I go through on the page is a form of catharsis.  It's a reassignment of the pain from me to the reader, who will be done with it when the book is closed.  I'm able to get the hurt off my chest, little by little, dispersed through four hundred or so pages.  So when someone says to me they are in too much pain to write, I say to them to use it.  I know.  I've been there.  I've been defeated and broken before.  

Pictured:  So done with everything...

It's not secret that, in 2013, I lost my wife of twenty years to cancer.  What may or may not be common knowledge is that, for the two years she fought, I didn't write.  Not a single word.  I was busy.  I wanted to care for her and, frankly, there was no creative muse left for me.  My muse lay in a bed while cancer took her away from me.   When she passed away, I was a broken man.  I didn't care anymore about writing, about the program for whom I work, or for my own life for that matter.  Nothing mattered to me.  I spiraled into a very deep depression.  Then I met someone who made me want to write again.  She inspired me.

But the pain still lingered, and I suspect it always will. 

Here's the point, though.  I started working again.  I started writing again.  I pushed myself to turn on my computer, pull up a blank file, and pour all those emotions into characters and situations and monsters and mayhem and symbolism and rage and... and...  

And something curious happened.  I felt better. 

Found my tail...
Characters died, others wept, and my emotions were thrown on the page, raw and bare, for the world to read.  I can't tell you how many times I caught myself in tears as I typed away, not even aware I was crying.  My characters went through loss and pain, and I didn't feel so alone anymore.  I pushed everything I felt out onto the page and it felt like a deep breath released.  And when I emerged from my writing room, I felt alive again.  I felt energized.  I felt like me. 

So this is the advice I wish to convey:  Use your art.  Truly creative people are a rare breed, and we can use the pain, the joy, the anger, the rapture in our lives to drive or work.  But more important in this case, we can use our work to soothe our souls.  We can use our art to give ourselves peace. 

One other thing you'll notice if you ever get the opportunity to sit and listen to creative types:  The crazier the work, the nicer we are.  Some of my favorite people in the world write some of the most demented stories imaginable.  People like Tim Waggoner, Gary Braunbeck, Mike Arnzen, Jack Ketchum... People read our work and assume we're terrifying individuals.  But I can tell you from personal experience that every person mentioned here are the nicest individuals you'd ever want to meet.  Of course they are.  All their demons are trapped in words on pages.  

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