What is the source of our first suffering?
It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak.
It was born in the moment
when we accumulated silent things within us.
-- Gaston Bachelard
There was a little girl who, when she was three years old, wrote, or rather told, her first poem:
It doesn't grow in water,
it doesn't grow in sand,
but in happy children's hands.
After that she didn't write a poem she liked for over twenty years. When she was three, she knew something that she then forgot and only gradually began to remember over a long period of time. When she was three, she knew the magic of words; she knew that words could create magic, that they were magic. She knew that they could create worlds, could describe worlds, explore worlds, and also be the bridge between one world and another.
In their purest use, words not only describe reality and communicate ideas and feelings but also bring into being the hidden, invisible, or obscure. Words can leave us in the known and familiar or transport us to the unfamiliar, incomprehensible, unknown, even the unknowable. Words, therefore, are the primary route toward knowing both the particular worlds we inhabit and our unique and individual selves.
With words, the little girl at three brought an invisible tree into view. Without her words, that tree might still exist but in another world where she could have no connection with it. Of course, she could not know whether those words constellated something that had not existed until that moment or whether they were the means to confirm the reality of something that had formerly been obscured. In either case, first nothing was there,and then, in a matter of words, something was there for all time. More importantly, there now existed a little girl who saw what others did not necessarily see, a little girl who saw the tree in the hand. And when spoken, these same words made seeing possible for others who were willing to see the tree.
How did the little girl learn of the tree she wrote about? She hadn't been told of its existence. It wasn't in a picture book, a botanical magazine, or the dictionary. It wasn't part of the family folklore. She didnt learn about it in school. But she had to find it somewhere. She was so young, she must have found it in herself. If such understanding was available to her at three, how much more might be available to her later as she grew up and gained experience?
When she was little she saw the invisible tree and announced its existence. As an older woman, when I finally remembered the tree, I remembered the source of the knowledge of that tree, the vastness of the realm of the imagination. I know now that the imagination is the domain of the inner world and that the creative is the way to it.
If the little girl once knew about the tree and intuited what it implied, why and how did she forget? And why did it take years for her to remember and to reconstruct ways to return to a deep familiarity with the world of imagination? How and why have we lost access to this world that is intrinsically ours?
The Words That Are Ours by Right
The way we see a room, a landscape, our awareness of differences and resemblances, the emotions we feel, the ideas we have about ourselves-all of these are embedded in language and in our relationship to words. Some of this relationship isstraightforward-we are shown a color and told it is red. But some of it is far more complex. In the course of our development, red begins to attract public and private meanings to itself.
Red flag, red-light district, red-blooded, Red Cross, red herring, red-bait, red-eye, red man, red-hot, red-faced -- these are all variations on a theme that goes far beyond the simple association of color and word. To make these images, we must pass the words through our own consciousness and particularity. And in this act of trying to know something else in its specificity, our own particularity is likewise revealed.
Some people fear seeing or feeling anything about which there is no general agreement. For others, it is thrilling to be aware of innuendo, shading, complexity. For those who do not wish to step away from consensus, the creative is useless at best; at worst, it is dangerous. But for those who are intrigued by the multiplicity of reality and the unique possibilities of their own vision, the creative is the path they must pursue. It is the creative and the worlds it opens that we wish to consider here.
We are entering a very singular world together. The world of public discourse -- political, social, diplomatic, commercial-has so corrupted language that we are rightly more suspicious of the meaning of words than we are convinced of their veracity. Language has been turned on its head. Still, language contains the possibility of revelation. Those who fiercely pursue the writing of journals, life histories, or autobiographies do so because they sense that the words that have been used to rob them of individuality are the very means by which they can restore dignity and create identity.When truthfulness is honored, describing the world and describing ourselves are the same act. Creating art and creating ourselves are the same act; art, world, ourselves-these are continuous with one another.
How language can obscure or can reveal became clear to me some winters ago. At a particularly dark time in my life, I took myself to Cape Cod for a week of solitude. Winter cold, snow, forbidding winds kept most people indoors. The inns where I stayed were generally empty. The streets were empty. The shops were empty. This pleased me. I enjoyed the silence. During the few hours of sunlight, I spent whatever time I could carefully photographing my shadow, and I spent the evenings writing a series of prose poems that I called, Shadow Letters. Self-Portrait of a Woman Alone.
On Saturday night toward the end of this sojourn, I found myself in an unusually crowded restaurant where the tables were set close to one another. Alone at my table in the middle of the room, I was surrounded by excited conversation. Yet from the facial expressions, the body postures, and the snippets I observed and overheard, the talk did not seem to be meaningful so much as it was continuous. As I listened to the chatter, I thought, We are so like monkeys.
In the tradition of Annie Dillard and Natalie Goldberg, this resource for writers and non-writers alike shows the act of writing to be a dynamic means of knowing, healing, and creating the body, mind, and spirit.
Personalized exercises help readers experience the joy of creation. In the tradition of Annie Dillard and Natalie Goldberg, writer/therapist Deena Metzger shows how writing can be a dynamic means of knowing, healing, and creating the body, mind, and spirit.