Am I in Danger? Haībun

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Never was anything great achieved without danger.
Niccolo Machiavelli

Are you in danger? We all face dangers from war, terrorism, natural disaster or accidents. Children are under another’s control, which has its own dangers, unfortunately. As adults, in a peaceful society, the worst daily danger we face is from ourselves. Our own bad choices can lead us down unsafe or self-destructive paths. Smoking eventually kills. Drunk driving kills. Addiction or obsession can hurt everyone around us. Eating too much can cause health problems. Eating too little can kill, too. 

 Sometimes, the bad choices are not obvious dangers. In college, I worked on a literary magazine. I submitted a light-hearted piece for publication to the editor, and she asked to meet with me. My piece was not what she wanted to publish next to pieces on female circumcision, the plight of refugees from Africa and relationship angst. Subjects that matter.

Write what you know.” The editor said to me very seriously, her asymmetrical hair shielding her eyes from view. “You have to write about your own life.”

I had already been published more than once in a variety of places including that same literary magazine. At first, I was angry at her for trying to tell me what to write. The more I thought about her advice to me, the more I became afraid. Afraid that without raw, wounding truth, a story was without value. Afraid that if a story did not ring with the voice of the oppressed, it was a story that did not matter.

The habit of silence was too strong for me to spill my guts for an editor I barely knew. My pain was not for sale. However, the fear took root, sending up thorn bushes and thistles. I stopped writing any kind of poetry or fiction. A line from Strictly Ballroom, a movie written by Baz Luhrmann, resonated with me:

Una vida con miedo es como la vida medias.”
Or, “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.”

 I turned to oil painting. I painted portraits and abstracts successfully, selling paintings and exhibiting in a show, but I hated losing possession of paintings. I still ache for a couple of them. Meanwhile, I channeled my writing urge into my profession. Occasionally, I would write a poem, but my words seemed without value.

 poems told my secrets
portrayal of misery
betrayal of me

Then, my children were born, and my light-hearted stories started to flow again. Incidents from my life informed my writing, giving my stories bones and heart.

Now that I have started to write for myself again, I realize living by someone else’s measure is half-living. As my stories have started to flow, so too has my joy found voice, my magic increased. I have embraced poetry, writing of nature, beauty and peace. Dwelling on my pain might be therapeutic, as it is for others, but it might also be self-destructive and destabilizing. I choose not to dwell in the dark places.

I’m still trying to pull those thistles, but the thorns are stuck deep. Every day, I face my fears, the fear of mediocrity, the fear of irrelevance. Will I hear advice from others to be more revelatory, to write more about pain and less about joy? Will I hear that my voice is singing the wrong song? Am I in danger of stopping writing again? Not this time.

 resolution strong
writing flows like a river
let your voice sing, too

Copyright 2013 Brenda Davis Harsham

Inspired by the weekly Haībun prompt.

Note: Those are a few of my remaining pieces of art. My best paintings, I no longer have, and I do not have good photographs of them either. Mostly, the nature photographs on my website are the art I have done since I started to write for myself again.

74 thoughts on “Am I in Danger? Haībun

  1. wow Brenda, you are a woman of many talents. Those paintings are wonderful. Thanks for sharing a bit of your story too. i love the first haiku compared to the second. The first is unsure and sad while the second is so confident and knowing. Just beautiful!

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    • Thanks, it’s been a powerful journey to be on. I’m so glad you liked my paintings. So many interests, so little time! LOL Never bored here, and I imagine you aren’t either. Cheers, Brenda

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  2. This is so good to share this Brenda! 🙂 Living by someone else’s half measure is definitely not the the way to live, and it happens to so many. I think I’ve been lucky in a way that those kind of things happened to me when I was very young, and over time effects from stupid teachers I met, fell off as I grew up, and I then very stubbornly refused to go to school by the time I was thirteen, so I met no more fools like that! But, even all of that left me way behind especially with spelling and maths. So it still had it’s bad effects! But to meet people like you have described here when you are in your teens and early 20’s is very bad indeed, we are all very vulnerable to suggestion (good or bad) at that age. Now that I’m in my 40’s I’m very aware of ‘how’ I speak to others of any age really, because even the wrong tone of voice can really effect people negatively, when you actually meant to give advice. Damage can be done so easily, because we never really know where someone is in their thinking, compared to us. We might be confident – they may look confident, but really, they may be hiding many insecurities.

    I know what you mean by not wanting to let go of the art! I realised I could paint quite well in recent years, where as I never believed I could before, and it was great fun! But actually letting go of something you have worked on for weeks or months is a little strange – a bit like giving a pet away, for someone else to look after! I suppose you don’t get that hardly ever with writing – you share it, not give away the original product. The solution to the art problem, may be to give away prints, and not the originals, although if you do a lot of paintings, you might need a lot of storage over the years! 😀

    I’m so glad that you have returned to your writing and are finding yourself within it. And I’m sure this blog is doing you no end of good, and will allow you sing long and loud and fully become yourself again. Leave the sour people to their dull sour world – it’s the one they enjoy, so let them have it, and move into the sweet light Brenda!! 😀

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    • Thanks for your supportive words. I also am in my 40s and lot more protected from “helpful” advice of others, and I have learned to focus on the good, and let the bad go if it seems to come from a place of bitter unhappiness. Unbelievably, I have received only positive words here in this cyber fairy tale world, proving that magic does exist! 🙂 I hope your novel is going well. Warmly, Brenda

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  3. the real danger, ourselves. truthful words. it is difficult to receive criticism from others especially if we feel we put our heart into it. your haibun touches me so close, on the feeling of being not good enough or others doing way better so why bother. i do see how you closed an early door but it led to your discovery of painting. now you have another wonderful gift to share with your children. you gained so much more from your first rejection words. i say to that editor: ha! take that! ha-ha ☺ great work!

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    • LOL You are right. If I had been writing, I never would have put all that energy and heart into my painting. I never would have improved or had a show or had a source of joy from it. 🙂 What a wonderful way to look at it, you always bring sunshine! Hugs, Brenda

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  4. You have a beautiful blog (okay, I know, I repeat myself)…but your blog is always an inspiration! This is a beautiful posting, and it strikes a deep cord in me as well. And how, art is as much for ourselves as anyone or anybody. If it wasn’t for you, it wouldn’t be coming from you, inside of you. I might not know you in person, but I see something from you, and it is gorgeous. Actually, I have no advice for you, I think you are a beautiful poet, and artist. Thankful for your beautiful sharings! Always gentle, but strong! Nice but wise! 🙂

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  5. Lovely article, Brenda. It’s so important to be true to yourself in any form of art. What was it Sean Connery says in Finding Forrester? “Why is it that the words we write for ourselves are so much better than those we write for others?” It’s because they come from the heart, not the head.

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  6. It’s very interesting when someone is both a writer AND a painter… I enjoy trying to look at the two side by side and see how they inform each other.
    What you said about fear definitely hits home. I think I had a lot of fear when I was younger… particularly the fear of irrelevancy and all that you mentioned. Weirdly, I think there is some joy to be mined out of writing about darker experiences and moments… at least for me. It helps me navigate them in a way that is meaningful.
    Great poetry, great artwork, just all around scrumptious stuff happening here today.

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    • I’m glad I hit home with you, and that others share my issues. It’s a relief to not be toiling alone like I did in college where the only input was negative as to my direction, rather than my writing itself. I’m so happy to have found a supportive atmosphere here on WP. I think the urge to paint comes from the same wellspring of creativity that my stories do, and I was lucky to be able to learn to oil paint before I left college. I need to find time to get back to that. HAve a magical week!! Hugs, Brenda

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  7. Brenda, you are quite talented and I appreciate your art work. I am still getting used to poetry, but even this old dog can learn new tricks. Take care, be yourself, and write what you want. — Bill

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    • Thanks for your support, Bill, I appreciate it! I like to see your smiling face in my notifications, because I know I’m going to smile back. Have a great week! Brenda

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  8. Wonderful and heartfelt. It’s so easy to get blocked by the callous, chance words of others. “Write what you know” is one of those writing cliches people mutter as if they were offering some eternal truth written in stone.
    Like you I got really blocked by my experiences at university and destroyed much of my art work. All that remains of much of it is digital photos on my computer. Much of my current work is reworking those digital images into new digital formats.
    Writing haibun seems to unleash some truth serum that elevates our writing to a new level. It’s a deep, inner journey. What you have written here is far from mediocre and has an extra-ordinary relevance for many as the enormous number of comments it has generated indicates. Your creative journey obviously strikes a chord with many. Great stuff Brenda. You wrote a lovely comment on my blog saying I was very talented and would succeed. I offer it back to you as a gift. You too are very talented and are sure to succeed in your chosen, heart felt endeavours. Keep writing and making art – your creative spirit is strong and you have much to give the world. Love – Suzanne.

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    • Suzanne,

      I’m a bit teary, how wonderfully moving to touch another’s life and connect with their trials, too. I feel sad for your lost art, and for your experience in not being appreciated. I love your art, and you are a great writer. I’m glad we are together in our journeys.

      Peace and joy to you and yours,

      Brenda

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      • Yes it’s a funny business being creative and learning how to cope with the criticisms of others. There is a sadness to the way we have both destroyed work but maybe when we get back to painting and making art again our work will be stronger for the experience. For now – keep writing haibun. It seems to be a very healing form of expression. I find myself composing haibun in my mind about experiences I’ve had. I’m looking forward to the next challenge. I wonder where we will both go with it. 🙂 Joy and light to you – Suzanne

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        • Yes, I have been enjoying the haibun prompts. Every week I’m not sure where to go or if I will write one that week, and then I do. I enjoy learning the new form. One day I’ll have to take on one of the other poem forms, too. I’ve even written one on my own. I notice some of the others publish on their own, too. Ye Pirate’s last post suggested submitting to online haibun zines, have you done that? I couldn’t find a reference on his sidebar, but perhaps I missed it.

          Joy and light to you as well,

          Brenda

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          • Yes it’s hard to keep track of everything that is available online. I feel I’m only just getting a grip on haiku and can’t get my head around all the other forms. Maybe one day. Like you I think I won’t write a haibun for the challenge then end up doing it. It’s an interesting process.

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  9. I know nothing of art and little of writing save this one thing (which came through in your writing as well); if you create something that people can identify with, then a connection is created. You make a good point. 🙂

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  10. Your Magick thoughts spin and weave incredible art painted with words full of color and one can feel
    them as well as see them….let your fingers paint…we enjoy you as you are….for you are being you in full Spirit…..
    Take Care…You Matter….
    )0(
    BlessedBe
    maryrose

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  11. Your paintings are lovely. So are your words. I’m glad you are true to yourself again. I agree, looking back is just that and time moves forward and drags us along with it…it’s what we do now that matters. Do whatever makes you happy and let the chips fall where they may. If you’re happy, everyone around you will be happy too and that’s all that really matters. We all ARE our art and we should never put it away because of someone else’s opinion. Michael Jordan’s high school coach told him he’d never be a basketball player. Other people’s opinions don’t mean anything…it’s what each person thinks of him/herself that matters. Your work is an extension of you and it’s great:)

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    • What powerful words, thank you so much! I am so happy you like my art and my words. I appreciate your opinion. I will keep writing. I took a lot of photos this morning, in our “wintry mix” morning. I look forward to writing something from them. I had a flurry of ideas. Hugs! Brenda

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    • Thanks! I will have to make time to share the love soon! And spread around some gratitude. I am very grateful for WP, I really enjoy blogging. 🙂 Cheers, Brenda

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  12. Wow…lots going on here…for me criticism only sticks when I too believe it which I did all too easily in most cases…if I am in a’ vulnerable not feeling too good about myself’ space, criticism is more likely to impact. When I am solid in myself it washes over me without any.
    Words that once seemed harsh can in the new light of another day hold wisdom. When I read the words your editor spoke I see advice and not judgement. That’s me though and that’s now.
    Did she switch of the creativity?
    The truth I see here is that you came back to writing when you could and when you were ready.
    Isn’t it somewhat ironic that her advice to ‘write about your life’ is at the core of this piece?
    For what it is worth I love reading your work. As somebody who was raised with constant criticism I used to find that sort of thing much harder to hear.
    I hope that you can hear loud and clear how well you are thought of as a writer.
    Two other things if I may:
    1.Where do I find your photography?
    2. Do you know the poetry of Mary Oliver?
    Px

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    • Her advice was probably well meant and not intended to lodge in my soul like a thorn. To clarify, she never said my writing was bad or unworthy, on the contrary, she took the time to meet with me, and she just wanted something less fictional and more important a subject. And yet, the result of what she said was to stop my writing for myself for years. That was my choice in a way, though. I chose to let my fears stop my voice, and it was a bad choice, a dangerous decision that made me unhappy in many ways. I also received constant criticism prior to that, and most of the time, I used that to improve. I don’t know why she managed to get past my walls. I guess I let her. And probably, I believed her. Maybe part of me still does, that’s the thorny problem, but the better part of me wants to celebrate life, and so I do.

      My photography illustrates my stories and posts throughout my blog, unless one has another attribution, it’s mine. I’m also trying to put some of the better ones up on Fine Arts America. That will be a process I have to learn. Wish me luck!

      I don’t know the poetry of Mary Oliver, but I will look for her. Thanks for your time, what a wonderful comment to come home to, after walking in a “wintery mix.”

      Warmly, Brenda

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    • Oh, you are too wonderful! I think she meant well, wanted me to be important, or something. But sometimes meaning well is worse, it’s harder to set aside. I’m ready to just be me, now, though. 🙂 And I’m so lucky to have all this awesome support on WordPress. It’s been great to join this community and start to make my own place. 🙂 Cheers, Brenda

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  13. It seems I am late to the party… You speak so illuminatingly for many of us who have been told that we aren’t good enough and won’t amount to anything. But we heard a different voice – our own strong clear voice with the help of some encouragement and sing with the joy of a brighter new day – everyday! I dabble in a few different crafts too. I hope to get back to some of them.
    Continue to paint with your soul whether with the brush of a pen or that which touches a different canvas. Keep all your talents alive!

    Thank you for your visit to my haibun. I was watching a show – I forget the title but it was something like ‘Who Lived in My House’ – Some of the historical homes were sold with their possessions with the request that those pieces of furniture and other historical documents stay with the building. 🙂

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    • I enjoyed my visit. The only cure to hurtful words is to keep writing. Don’t let another still your voice or dictate your subject. 🙂 The power of choice is phenomenal. I have to get my boy to school, over the snow and through the woods, to elementary school we go. 🙂

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  14. AnElephant is relieved at your conclusion, because much of what he writes is whimsy.
    But your writing reaches deep, like the root of the thistle.
    Which is, for some of us, our national flower, a symbol of resilience in the face of hard times.
    One person’s meat …..
    Great haibun, magical haiku.

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    • No insult meant to the thistle. I remember well the thistles of Scotland, tough and resilient, and yet beautiful, too. Here the thistles don’t flower like they do in Scotland, sadly. Either way, they can imbed themselves and sink deep.

      I like whimsy, Elephant, and I think it’s restorative and delightful. I like to hear your voice. I’m sad if I touched on a fear of yours and made you uneasy. I hope to hear a lot more whimsy from you in future.

      Hugs, Brenda

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  15. Yes, agree with the earlier comment – your words singing off the page – the voice here can be heard, definitely, one is spoken to when reading this..and that line about thorns….doesn’t that just say it all..
    Your dilemma is such a searing one. The fear of mediocrity is all too real; that fear of mundacity. Through your words I recognise how wrong it is to second guess what might be liked – and of course how terrible it is to have someone cast their shadow of disapproval over you; the mediocre dictating yet again. Your haibun is full of delightful snippets, like that little sentence about children, ‘unfortunately’, that brings back memories to everyone of us, yet another child being shouted at in public, and surely worse in private.
    The haibun was so accessible for the reader. The way you make your stand for your voice to be heard is so powerful, and the haiku really works for that purpose, as well as providing such a nice closing. In fact that closing haiku just seems to magnetise your piece.
    This haibun should be part of a very good creative writing course – it gives so much. And I happen to agree with you, the serious topics should be treated in novel or short story form where possible, not in magazines, lecturing or propagandising at people, and I do despair of people like the editor you write about.
    I didn’t know you were a painter. Would be lovely to have two images of your paintings for a challenge one week. Thank you for your piece again. Every reader will get so much from it.
    piratehaven (at) hush.ai if further needed about paintings

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    • I’m so happy you can relate to my haibun, I have had many chats over the years about writing, starting why did I stop? About painting, why don’t I do something with it? I have come to view my commenters here as friends. I hear echoes of the same dilemmas from others that I went through. I thought sharing my own journey would help others on theirs. How nice that you are interested in my art, I will have to think about that. Warmly, Brenda

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  16. You surely have found and are living your song, Brenda. We write what is in us to write and what feels right. Some areas of our life may be a no-go because we choose that to be the way. I read of many hurts in other blogs here and they are raw and truthful but there is only so much hurt a soul can take without needing to be lighter. At least, I find that. Your paintings look excellent. Like giving away children when you have to part with something you have created in love. Someone else will be loving them no doubt. And you have spread some more magic. Blessings on you and your words. x

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    • What supportive and kind words to wake up to, thanks! I agree, that I can spend too much time in the dark places, and that is not where I find release. I’m glad you find magic at my blog. Peace and Joy to you! Brenda

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  17. You definitely have a beautiful gift for writing. Your words sing off the page. I started writing for myself too, and now, my normally happy, uplifting blogs often get a bit gloomy. Sometimes pain will do that, but then I slap myself in the face, (not literally) and find something fun to write about. It’s hard to be sad when you write happy. Then, I have my art too. I’ve been painting my Christmas ornaments. Everyone loves them and I get so many compliments and praises. I’d love to see your artwork. Yes, long distance sisters.

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    • Ah, you are a special sister. Pain and sadness are part of life, nature knows and accepts this. To nonetheless find beauty and joy is the miracle. Painting Christmas ornaments is a great idea. I should do that with my kids this year. I bet yours are gorgeous. Have you put them up? If so, I must have missed that in my reader.

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  18. You have written this so beautifully Brenda. And yes, you are so right and at once profound when you say, “I realize living by someone else’s measure is half-living.”. But it is very difficult to individuate. This process of individuation is what I can risk taking or “danger” as you mention. No progress is ever made without risk.

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    • Very true, nothing great is achieved, no progress made or any truth to oneself without risk or danger. I have seen so many beautiful writers worrying about what others think, and my heart breaks for those who lose hope or belief in themselves. I can’t criticize since I did the same thing, but I can try to lend support.

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      • There is only one catch here. One must think sufficiently highly to take this path of I-dont-care-what-others-think. If a mind has not been sculpted for such endeavours just as yet, it is better to follow others which will keep one safe. But a need to think independently and bring self-actualisation is important for everyone. That is what Emerson says when he talks about self-reliance too.

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        • It’s not that I don’t care what others think, because I do, deeply. It’s that I must live by my own light, despite the disapproval of others. What is sufficiently high for one person may be too low for another. Thoreau is my hero. He found his metier in loving solitude and nature, and that was such a blessing to me. As long as you don’t think about harming others or yourself, then being guided by your inner light is surely a good thing. If one is not ready to follow one’s inner star, then by all means, it isn’t necessary. I like how deeply you think about this. It is an important decision to make for yourself, one that is not easy to live with afterwards.

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