So, yesterday I was very much focused on the idea of both the important role that storytelling can play in our lives, our cultures, our development and the idea of returning to things in your life, seeds that had been planted in your soul a long while ago, when the time is right.
After some more reflection, I see even more clearly how these things are real and relevant in my life right now. One of the main mediums I have for storytelling in my own life is through the poems that I write. A few years ago I had some published and then, for some reason, I just stopped. It was only fairly recently, in the last year, that the muse returned and I began to write again. Prolifically. Thanks in no small part to my constant muse and motivator – a friend I shall always treasure. I find that poetry helps me to tell my story in several different ways – to focus on one tiny detail, event, characteristic, feeling, person, location or idea. To write as directly or cryptically, to be as transparent or transcendental as I please. I find it hugely liberating. In a poem I can explore voices, personas, versions of events and myself, that I may not want to invest much time or emotion in. It’s perhaps for this reason that I find it quite shocking sometimes, even a little bit disturbing to go back and read over poems I have written, to encounter parts of my identity or personalities that only existed in passing and yet, in that briefest of lifetimes, spilled their passions across the page. That’s the process I’m engaged in at the moment. Since I hadn’t written consistently for so long, I hadn’t ever really trusted that that was what was beginning to happen again and so the poems appeared everywhere – in my phone, in notebooks, on memory sticks, on the backs of envelopes and receipts. I hadn’t collected them anywhere, since I didn’t believe there would be a collection…and now there is and I’m having to form the collection retrospectively, which I am doing in this notebook – handwritten, archived in date order or as near as dammit as I can get it. So, I’m returning to them all, to review them and round them up.
While it has been hugely satisfying and productive, calming even, to know that slowly but surely, they’re all arriving at the same place, it doesn’t feel quite so much like the ‘breathing life’ into them that I talked about in my last post. I feel that I need to do much more with them if it’s going to feel like I’m bringing them to life. I’ve had a couple of ideas – working with some friends to film performance poetry versions of them, maybe compose some backing tracks, team them up with some multi-media was one. Yesterday, a friend also suggested that I form another blog that just contains my poetry and that seems like something simple I could definitely do. Simple but a definite start. Because it’s difficult. I think the element of exposing parts of your story, your voice, that are perhaps not familiar to you let alone anyone else you know, is the most transformational, healing and liberating element of storytelling granted to a writer, but also the most terrifying. You’re afraid that people will be forced to acknowledge and assign fierceness and passion and soul to your being, where perhaps you and they are more comfortable with not ever having to do that. And that’s great. It should be terrifying. It should expose you and allow you and others to explore.
Although it was a shocking realisation at first, I’m quite comfortable with acknowledging that most of my poetry comes from some aspect of my own truth – my identity, my personality, my fantasies and forging on with my journey, no matter how briefly or with how much hostility these aspects of myself manifest. It’s more the readiness of others to receive those insights that I think is the more terrifying aspect of sharing your writing.
There’s another kind of freedom that is also granted to writers that can lead to fear in sharing those stories as well though. And that’s the freedom to explore aspects of life, identity and experiences that are not part of your truth and you would certainly never wish them to be. In fact, its perhaps that delicious offer to take a bite of the forbidden fruit and escape poison-free that attracts so many writers to delve into darkness and write about the things they fear or reject the most. It’s a perverse paradox that the things that repel them the most strongly in reality seem to hold the deepest attraction in exploring in fantasy and fiction.
As a teacher, I am sometimes lucky enough to inspire my students to begin experimenting with writing myself and this was the basis for a recent frank and honest discussion with one such student about our identities as writers – both mine and the student’s – that we both wrote about things that we were hesitant to share because of the fear that people would assume that all of our storytelling expressed our own truths. For me, this comes across most strongly in my fiction prose writing because I feel it is a more measured and crafted exercise, where I can take more time to contemplate things and imagine responses to things far beyond my own experiences, whereas I see my poetry as more often being an outpouring of spontaneous passion, a momentary truth in its purest form. I reassured the student, and in some part myself, that we all did this as writers and that we needed to be brave enough to explore the things that attracted us to their dark and devastating midst, that it had no baring on our real identity, that just because we could imagine and write about heinous and horrific things it did not mean that our soul had ever come close to encountering them or had any great urge to.
But I wonder deep down, how true that is. It’s a necessary platitude to fall back on as a writer, or you would censor or sabotage your most daring writing. It’s peoples willingness to go along with this explanation that I have been able to return to a particularly dense and disturbing story that I am currently breathing life into. One I had turned my back on in disgust some months ago and now felt that I had been granted sufficient distance and dispensation from the events I am about to write about, to be able to return to it. But I wonder how true it is.
I wonder if all of our storytelling, even those we convince ourselves are the imagined stories of others, quite different from ourselves, are really just an uncomfortable appendix to our own stories?