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.
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.