So Far for Beauty – why we can’t stop writing

I took it “out on the dance floor” last night. All of it – the feelings of helplessness, rage, terror, and joy, too. Joy in community, in my body’s ability to move so many parts in pleasure and discomfort, in the sweet cold outside air and in the blasts of heat from the White Eagle Hall’s giant heaters.

The 5Rhythms dance practice, along with yoga, Byron Katie’s The Work, Barbara Turner-Vesselago’s Freefall writing practice, and my beloved Osho’s illuminations, all encourage one to turn toward, in, and through the dark places – from discomfort to despair – rather than avoid, suppress, or fight them. In these particularly challenging times I am intensely grateful for these practices.

When I sit down to write now, more than ever, I ask myself why? Why bother? Who, when the world is on fire, will care, will be inclined, will even be able to read any of it – pertinent to the times or not?

My work in progress is about a teenage white girl who, having lost her mother to suicide, makes an impulsive decision to ‘save’ a First Nations street person by taking the girl back to her remote home reserve. The urge to write this story came from two places – both of which I felt were urgent, timely issues. One is because of the devastating after-effects I’ve witnessed to the children of suicides. In my own small world three women have left teenage children to cope with their self-inflicted deaths. I wanted to write about that, despite knowing that Miriam Toews has written two very moving books on the subject of suicide. I had to write this story. As I wrote into the story, a First Nations character appeared and I realized that I needed to address two different underpinnings of suicide – mental illness and hopelessness. And of course, out of this particular mix arose another timely issue – that of racial and social projection. In this case it is the erroneous if well-intentioned beliefs of the two girls: the protagonist’s idea that the native girl is helpless and that once home she will live some romantic version of aboriginal life, and the native girl’s belief that the white girl has led a privileged sorrowless life.

These are important current issues. But then, along comes history in the making and the world is turning on its ear and all the attention is on fear and exclusion and maybe tomorrow we will all be refugees and what is wrong with people don’t they remember what happened to a vilified people under Hitler, we’ve barely recovered from those atrocities and don’t they remember what happened in Rwanda? In Bosnia? Don’t they realize that not only is oil finite, its extraction devastates what we have left of this beautiful earth and its life-giving waters, how can this be happening? And so on and on…

Even in the light of the groundswell of peaceful protesting, marches and occupations, advocacy groups and activists, women and scientists all coming together to defend what is good and right and humane I still wonder, what is my part? Is what I’m writing worth anything at all?

All of this has nearly stopped me in my tracks. Pushed me to the ground. Judging from my social media feed, I am not alone.

However, many of those who have expressed the same sort of feelings of imminent collapse, creative blockages, or confusion about how exactly we as creative people are to proceed in these tricky treacherous times, have also offered their light and wisdom. Ruth Walker just posted a heartening piece on her The Top Drawer Writescape blog, Writing through Hard Times, where she encourages us to keep moving and use Gwynn Scheltema’s advice to simply notice everything, and then cites four brilliant writers’ notions on how to keep working.

She quotes Margaret Atwood: “The darkness is really out there. It’s not something that’s in my head, just. It’s in my work because it’s in the world.” And Ray Bradbury: “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

These times are what we’ve been preparing for; building our emotional muscle, as it were, to not simply endure distressing situations, but to stay awake and aware, take conscious action wherever possible, and to keep on dancing, painting, building, writing… Because we have to. In the end, it really doesn’t matter if two or two million people read what we’ve written, it only matters that we’ve written true. To write what “presses on your heart,” to quote one lovely AWA alumna. To write “fearward” as Barbara Turner-Vesselago encourages.

We can do this thing: this writing, living, dancing, breathing thing. We can be kind and we can be brave. All over the world people are gathering, uniting, using their voices to speak, sing, and shout. We can, too. We must, in fact. Otherwise, what Cohen sang will be true: “…Everybody knows the good guys lost/Everybody knows the fight was fixed/The poor stay poor, the rich get rich/That’s how it goes/Everybody knows…” 

It doesn’t have to be so. It just doesn’t.

Milck was one of many who used her voice in the midst of an “awful truth” and brought women together to sing a hopeful powerful song. Listen here.

3 Responses to So Far for Beauty – why we can’t stop writing

  • Yes, we need voice more than ever. I care. Don’t keep quiet, even when it seems small.

  • Brian says:

    Yes… pointedly honest & hearfelt in it’s thoughtful, exposing. vulnerability.
    Thank you for this. Within it’s sombre machinations I still see the silky thread of hope. May your most recent work-in-progress continue to shine a spotlight on such important questions.

    • Catharine Lawrence says:

      Thanks so much for this, Deepam. For years when I taught senior English classes I’d quote from a letter Timothy Findley wrote to our English department when a tiny cabal of crazy right wingers tried to ban us from teaching his brilliant novel, The Wars. He said: ‘make your prayers against despair.’ I say that to myself as a mantra every day now. But, thanks to you and Ruth, I have two other powerful voices against despair as well. I hope our paths cross again, either in Victoria or in Ontario.
      Much love,
      Catharine

Leave a Reply to Brian Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Us
If you enjoyed this post…
Follow Us