Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Inner Compass 3: Discovery Processes

A year ago Mom died. I bought flowers again, today, continuing my year-and-a-day ritual of remembrance for both my parents. I brought home two yellow roses, and one red. Yellow was Mom's favorite color. Red was Dad's. They are intertwined together in the flower vase, as they were in life.

I am discovering about myself something new and potentially frightening because it is powerful. I reached deeper into myself and exposed myself more vulnerably than I thought possible, when I wrote out my Gratitudes the other night. It took a lot out of me. I went to bed sore and tired but feeling finished: completed, spent, exhausted and emotional but not in any negative way.

I posted my annual Gratitudes, as I have done every year for the past few years, sharing them publicly with friends and others. I recognize that part of me sought approval—that old habit of looking outwards for validation—only to discover, when trickles of validation came in, that I no longer needed approval. I wrote out my Gratitudes for the ears of Others, who always listen; and They heard, and that’s all I care about.

I felt I had written more openly, more nakedly, more honestly and vulnerably, than usual. Probably more than I usually do. The habit of keeping some private secrets is a deep one; and I do keep things I don't reveal, in a forum like this, as does everyone. There is no shame in keeping some things private. In fact, it's necessary for one's self-worth.

I wondered if I have broken one of my own rules, for writing here; the Dragoncave is intended to hold finished work, not works-in-progress; it will never become a diary; I wondered if I had been too personal in my writing, too revealing. Then I realized: the Gratitudes are a finished piece; even if raw, rather than polished. (As they end up becoming, every year.) The writing moves, as intended, from darkness towards light; begins in suffering and sorrow, but ends in immolation and transcendence; as intended. That is the purpose, and outcome, for the practice of writing Gratitudes: to begin again; to release; to move on.

Do I perhaps continue to be too honest and personal, here and now, in writing out these follow-up thoughts? Probably. I won't be making a habit of it. Again, I have no intentions of presenting a diary of personal growth and therapy—except and unless there is an artistic purpose and result, as well. I won't shy away from personal writing; and the process of reassessing my past, in the wake of life-changing events, is ongoing. The narratives found in photography as memory will go on.

To return to what I discovered, writing out the annual Gratitudes: I discovered that it didn’t matter to me if anyone approved or disapproved of my nakedness in this writing. It didn’t matter what anybody thought of me, or about what I wrote. I discovered a new-born independence. Perhaps this is part of the process of following one's own inner compass. It’s still a young and fragile entity, this indifference; I will no doubt slip back from time to time into needing external validation. But now I know that I don’t need it, even if out of habit I might from time to time crave it. I don’t need it. That part of my life is extinguished—perhaps immolated in those other fires. Once again, it's about following one's inner compass, for awhile; and trusting.

I also discovered that I can continue to write at a level of intensity I had been experiencing all last fall, and some other times, those times I wrote at white heat. I learned that I can write at a level of passion and power that is both deeper and brighter than I imagined. I learned that I can find that intensity again, when I need it. It is more available than I had believed. I discovered a new kind of self-confidence—although no doubt some will falsely label it arrogance, out of their lack of understanding—that has the potential to lead me towards a new life that I want to live. A passionate life, an intense life, a life of a thousand moments of exquisite pleasure and beauty, not excluding the dark beauties and joys to be found even in death and suffering. A life of a thousand moments that can end at last in forgiveness, which is another name for Unity.

It felt good to write something powerful, blunt, open, naked, revealing, vulnerable, honest. Was there pleasure in writing something so intense? Yes, evn though it was sometimes a darker flame. Was there satisfaction? Yes, if exhaustion after a hard day’s work is satisfaction.

I wrote what I was actually feeling. I didn't censor, I didn't edit, and I didn't modify even the most extreme and intemperant phrase into something safer and more private. I revealed more of myself than I usually feel comfortable doing. I was fearless.

Of course, these are discoveries that others have long known. What's new to me is its presence under my own pen. Many writers have been braver and more honest than I, for centuries. It is only new to me.

So I claim no literary breakthrough, or even that it was writing of great merit. I don’t claim even that a writer feeling empowered by their own writing is new; writing-workshops count on just these self-discoveries among their students. In my case I discovered a deeper level than I’d known about before. What I got from this project was self-discovery; it probably doesn’t matter to anyone else. I only mark it for my own remembrance.

I make no claim to artistry in the writing. I am the first to acknowledge that a therapy-poem is usually not a good poem, purely as a poem. There are poet-critics who cannot make the distinction between therapy-writing and publishable writing; even in their own work. There are poet-critics who claim that any personal information in any poem is unseemly; even as other poets, many of them graduates of writing workshops, write only small lyrics about their personal lives. I think both extremes of that divide have sold their muses for ideologies: rather, the truth lies in the middle regions.

Critical or aesthetic awareness is not what these self-discoveries are about. Not all writing is about polish. This writing was a self-discovery about something in myself that I needed to discover, to learn about, to embrace. And purely on that level, it succeeded in teaching me what I needed to know.

This is where the inner compass comes in, again: Trusting your instincts and intuition, rather than any ideology. Believing that where the writing leads you is just as relevant, or more, as where you had thought you were going, where you intended to go. Following the brush, the pen, the breath, to discover.

Not all, not even most, writing needs to be directed and intentional. Sometimes we write to discover what we believe, what we are thinking. What we believe; what we know. It can be risky, following the inner compass. And it might not get you any approval, either personal or critical. My principal discovery, again, was that writing my Gratitudes freed something intense and powerful inside me, that I hadn't realized was there, and for which I need no-one's approval.

Perhaps that's what it means to be free.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I think what it is is that until we start writing we don't know what we believe. When we write we explore and explain, we examine slowly things and that's revealing. That's why my current novel is taking so long because it's taken me to places I thought could sail through but it has not been so easy.

12:45 AM  
Blogger mand said...

Followed your yellow roses link, and i (who have never felt comfortable with Ritual) understood your ritual and the reason(s). With me it's baking a cake for a birthday. And i was interested at the twelfth anniversary (recently) that i felt differently about the cake, not that i need no longer do it, but that it need no longer be the 'right' cake and a new kind each time. So i also understand your expectation that the need for the ritual will change in the future, even though i haven't your experience with honouring ritual.

Very interested that you had a white-heat phase of writing around the autumn (if i understand you correctly) - i did too, after a long period of semi-block; and i too am finding i can continue the intensity despite the spark being less now - i can still produce, and produce good-enough work. Seriously hoping it doesn't give out on me too soon!

And interested that you say 'won't be making a habit of it' re blogging the personal stuff. Me too, and again the timing coincides.


8:26 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Another blog I read regularly posted a quote from Wallace Stegner today:

'We do not write what we know; we write what we want to find out.'

I think that dovetails nicely with your thoughts, Jim. Thanks.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...


I've been creative ritual a very long time. It always means more when you write the ritual yourself, in my experience, than when you use something received. Not to say those are mutually exclusive, or that one may not borrow back and forth.

I have almost always had a white heat writing phase in October, which is the end of my tradition's calendar year. Most of the Spiral Dance essays were written in Octobers, or thereabouts. What's unusual this year, and perhaps it's tied to the grief process (and I'm willing to talk about personal issues when they're relevant to discussing creativity), is that this white heat phase (for lack of a better term) has endured longer than ever before, and has produced more essays and poems and writings at white heat than I can remember. For a very long time, if not for ever.

Interesting that there have been some parallels. Best wishes to you on keeping it going.

10:24 PM  
Blogger mand said...

Ah, it shows that i've come in late on this conversation n hadn't heard of you back in October.

With me, grief had the opposite effect. I lost my words altogether. (That was a long time ago.) I'm glad at least that is working for you.

There is an odd rightness, in there with the sadness, about grieving done properly...

11:45 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Trust me, I feel like I lost my words, too. More precisely, in terms of poetry, the way I wrote completely changed, and is still evolving. I don't recognize my owns poems, anymore. (Neither do a lot of other people.) That's all tied together with why I'm not interested in poetry critique groups online anymore, too.

Something disappeared, got lost, went away. Something new is still coming into being, in its place. But staying with the void, and just letting it be empty, is I think a very important part of the process. Of any process, really. Far too many writers are afraid of silence, of the void, of being silent or silenced.

Figuring out how to grieve properly is, I agree, really important. I also think it's individual.

12:00 PM  
Blogger mand said...

Sounds like you are grieving pretty wisely.

Where can i read your poems? i've searched on 'poem' within your blog n turned up nothing. (Love your pix.)

12:05 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I haven't gotten in the habit of labeling every post here. (I'm not sure I want to, for various reasons.) Poems are scattered throughout. If a title seems vaguely poetic, hmn, well, could be. (Hint, hint.)

Over on my main website, there a few pages of finished (and sometimes published) poems. You could start here.

12:08 PM  

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