The last few weeks have been rough.
Not like, ‘my parents were hit by a bus’ rough. Not like, ‘I or someone close to me was diagnosed with cancer’ rough. Not like, ‘The bank reclaimed our house and we’re living out of our car’ rough. Nothing anywhere near that drastic, I assure you. I am fortunate enough to be able to count my blessings and say that for the most part my life will go on uninterrupted. But that doesn’t mean the last few weeks haven’t been tough emotionally, for a number of reasons that I won’t go into in public.
This isn’t a sob story (as if my troubles were enough to even merit that moniker) but rather an encouragement, a plea to continue, an inspiration to create. Sometimes the resulting anger and pain from this emotional hurt has made me reluctant to continue, has made me doubt the words I’ve put into the world, have made me wonder if anything I’ve done has made a difference to anybody. It’s hard. I’ve lost faith in the connections I’ve made with people, and so I’ve lost faith in my ability to make connections. And as anyone who makes art knows, connections and communication are the most important part of our lives.
(But actually guys, I am not writing this post as a cry for sympathy or pity, so please don’t be like ‘oh, I’m so sorry about what you’re going through!’ because my life is so non-tragic compared to people in Syria who have been displaced or people in Haiti who never got re-placed or many other examples of people who have suffered far worse things than I have. This post is not about my personal suffering but about how to work through it. The suffering is merely incidental.)
In my dark moments these last few nights I’ve found myself crying into my father’s arms, or lying helplessly on the bathroom floor feeling like a failure and wondering what I was doing with my life, or playing Radiohead’s Street Spirit over and over again until four in the morning because I didn’t know who to talk to or how. (Not to mention that I felt like a huge baby.) But in each one of these moments of desperation I found one thing to motivate me to go forward.
One day I pounded out almost four thousand words. The next, I finished a chapter in an hour and a half, almost two thousand words. Today, I’ll slay another chapter. I did a word count on the first draft of THE REAPING and we’re now 35,000 words into it. Every time I got into a character’s head, I was able to see and feel his pain so much more poignantly because of the pain I was going through. Everything I wrote felt much more tangible and real because it was so raw, so untamed. I am a channel for my emotions and they scrawl themselves into immortality instead of festering inside me like a disease. Everything I wrote was vindication, salvation, even if the words themselves were shit. Everything I wrote connected me to someone, even if that someone was a fictional character, Remy Alexander or Valerian Orlean, suffering the same things I was and responding in better, more courageous ways. Everything I wrote was a victory, even if I was the only one to see it. I inspired my characters and I drew inspiration from them.
But writing isn’t just emotionally cathartic. Every word you write is an act of self-actualization. That’s a fancy term, I know, but it’s one that has a lot of meaning for me. To me, it means that with every word or sentence or paragraph I put on paper, I’m empowering myself to move beyond that pain. It’s an act of reclamation. I reclaim myself for me and I declare my identity, independent of that hurt and anger. It allows me to remember that I am more than just that wound, that I am more than the loss I’ve felt so tangibly.
So I say this to you, the reader, the writer, the artist: When you are in pain, don’t let that pain consume you. Don’t let your loss, heartache, or fear destroy you. Channel it. Turn it into emotion. Reclaim your identity as an artist and do that one thing that artists do best, as Neil Gaiman said: “Make good art.” One of my best friends has been going through a difficult time as well and she, a musician, has turned her pain into some of the most powerful lyrics I’ve read. If you are a dancer, dance your best, most emotional and destructive dance. If you are a painter, splay that pain across your canvas. And above all, if you’re a writer: write.
Write, because your identity depends on it. Write, because no one else will tell the story inside you. Write, because no one else can save you.