SRAOC #5 First Snow

Small Rebellious Acts of Creativity (#SRAOC) is a weekly invitation to explore a word, or phrase, through whichever creative avenue, platform or modality the participant wishes. It is intended to be a philosophical or creative catalyst moreso than a straight up writing prompt.

This week’s prompt was: First Snow

JODI

I live in the sub-tropics. Snow is not part of our weather equation (though we did all delight in cutting out snowflakes as kids in art!) So I took a slightly different path.

It made me think of all the firsts we collectively share, but like each snow flake they are unique and one-of-a-kind. We all took a first breath when we entered this world, but each is vastly different to the next. We have taken first steps, spoken first words, and smiled for very first time. As we got older we stormed and normed through friendships, we suffered through first crushes (and perhaps first kisses) and had our first intimate experiences of another. Each experience gathered a kaleidoscope of feelings and thoughts all unique. All firsts.

We received our first certificates and awards, sat our first exams, handed in our first essays, wrote our first stories or songs or completed our first pieces of art, or competed in something for the first time. We received our first pay cheques, drove for the first time, left home for the first time, traveled overseas or interstate alone for the first time. We attended our first wedding, first funeral and celebrated the arrival of a new life for the first time, whether into our own family or that of someone close. We watched a sunset, walked on a beach, climbed a mountain, touched snow, grew something in a pot and watched a storm from our bedroom window, and each of us wove something different around those experiences. We are the same and different.

We left a job for the first time, missed a promotion, left a relationship, experienced heart break, lost someone and felt for the first time we did not belong in this world. We experienced disappointment, disillusionment, regret, shame, judgement, sorrow, overwhelm, confusion, apathy and disapproval for the first time. While each of those instances might have been different we all felt the same in the moment.

We made decisions to honour ourselves and our paths, for the first time and asked others to acknowledge and respect it also for the first time. Perhaps after years of living in the shadows or crushed beneath expectations.

In the words of Rilke

I want to unfold
I don’t want to be folded anywhere
Because where I am folded
There I am a lie

As we age the list of firsts gets shorter and perhaps reaches a point where we have no more firsts unless we actively seek them to enrich and expand our lives before our time here ends.

In this moment we are unique and incredible, with infinite potential – just as we were the moment we sucked oxygen into our virgin lungs and howled our arrival in this world. We are if we choose to think of ourselves still in a world full of firsts, preparing for our imminent arrival.

RUS

It was late October about 10 years ago, and I was on the way to my daughter’s farm when it started snowing. Now, Maryland snowfalls in October are pretty to watch, but they never really stick. For this snowfall, it not only coated the trees and grasses, it accentuated the beautiful peak of Autumn’s most brilliant colors. The result? A once-in-my-lifetime impressionist moment where seasons collided, and nature’s canvas painted itself miraculously before me. This First Snow reminded me of the natural world that Thoreau brought to life in his journals; here, I tried to do the same through the lens of my camera.

 

Words As… Fictions-of-the-Self

The feelings are intense and unexpected; the crushing grief, pain and longing. And rising beside it, equally unexpected, is a voice that refuses to be repressed: words, sentences and whole paragraphs form in my head as I rush to gather my laptop and exit the house. I’m well and truly on my way to an old haunt to write before the logic part of my brain can catch up and say: you don’t write from emotional anguish.

My logic brain needs a gentle redirect on that thought: I don’t usually write from emotional anguish. I’ve never been one to thrive in discord, in drama or instability. That is why I was so discombobulated in the middle of February when this happened to me. It was one thing to be suffocated by emotion, but it was another to find myself simultaneously wildly spiralling in a creative updraft. As it turned out, I arrived at the top to a different kind of suffocation, I had flown so high into my own creative atmosphere I had a kind of reality hypoxia. The mix of large amounts of coffee, emotion and creative immersion turned out to be a heady but not particularly kind mix.

Last week, my partner handed me his collection of Aphra Behn’s work (the first female to make a living as a writer). The introduction included a dissection of the originating body of criticism leveled at her as an author, based in the fact she was not ‘truthful’ in her writing; she apparently made large omissions about the crossover of her real life with the fictional lives she penned. It was the kind of literary cross-examination her male peers were not subjected to and detracted from the actual substance, breadth and importance of her work.

As writers we are forever at the mercy of readers’ assumptions about the intersections of fiction and reality and how they may (or may not) intersect with the real life of the author. I know I have on more than one occasion been guilty of this – wondering what real event, or actual person sparked or informed what I’ve read. To be a reader is to flirt with the temptation to be a literary tracker, trying to identify the emotional and biographical footprints in fiction. I know I leave them behind in my work, usually unconsciously. However, the fiction I sat to write two days after Valentines Day wasn’t the accidental infiltration of something subliminal rising through my story – this was an intentional act of fiction as comfort, as witness and as a safe place to land. It was fiction-of-the-self.

Until I discover it, I forget I have written it. I come across it by accident re-arranging items in a wardrobe. Here, in the back of this massive hardback day-to-a-page diary from 1987, is me trying to write my way through trauma I can’t write in a journal and can’t share with my friends. It unfolds in my perfect teenage printing; a wish fulfilment version of my life in late 1989, only it’s kind of fan fiction-esque writing, taking my existing life and rewriting it ever so slightly to fictionalise it. I don’t think to erase the trauma though. Instead I am trying to navigate through it. Reading it, I choke up; there is such sadness and despair in that prison of shame and guilt and pain I was trying to write my way out of. But there’s also the glimmer of strength and tenacity which would eventually see me through to the other side 25 years later.

Virginia Woolf once wrote: let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor and language at once runs dry. I don’t believe emotional pain is any less. While I have been a dedicated journal writer since 2014, and have credited a lot of my emergence from the dark years of depression to spending time every day at the page –  in contemplation and in bare-faced honesty – there is something entirely different about intentionally using fiction-of-self to engage with emotional pain, and attempt to transmute and transcendent its overwhelming nature.

Even after I opened up to talk to my friends and began to share my trauma, when silence was no longer a co-warden in my experience, there was something that remained missing. In leaning into the trauma via fiction-of-the-self, I found solace. Something no amount of hand-holding, or hugging, shared tears and outrage, conversations or quiet space were able to provide. There was something in the fantasy world where I deliberately wove words around my pain that allowed the unbearable to become bearable.

At the end of the session I can barely breathe. I check and double check what has poured out of me, change a few paragraphs around. Gently rewrite a few sections, but for the most part I leave it as it has disgorged. It is raw and beautiful. In an act of sheer bravery (or stupidity) I copy and paste what I have written into emails to three of my most trusted friends and literary allies. It is almost a way of trying to give voice to what I am struggling to give voice to – how absolutely fucked this pain is, the emptiness within like a black hole and how my memory is already distorting.

The following weekend the same voice rises up in me and I repeat the ritual of café and coffee and writing, despite my misgivings. After the initial purge, and the comfort and solace I found amid the words – both inside and outside of my pain – I am unsure if I want to return and inhabit the space. I am unsure if this is unhealthy and a way of prolonging the pain; of remaining inside stories I really need to let go of. But I trust the call, because the voice is insistent. And I write.

What comes out is subtly different. There is unexpected space between myself and the narrator. At the end of the session (and I can almost laugh at myself when I parse these experiences as ‘sessions’) I see there is a divergence, both in path and voice. Though we share a very similar emotion experience and my experience has connected me to her narrative, we are not traveling the same narrative any more.

The following weekend I return and again, the degrees of separation expand; she is definitely no longer me, she has a name, belongs to a world that is not mine and has a mission I’d never accept. Georgie now has the potential to be something other than fucked up fan fiction of my own life.

There’s distance now, but re-entering Georgie’s world is a potential invitation to re-enter my pain, despite the obvious separation, and I remain undecided if this is where I am willing to go. My teenage self was invested in her narratives in a way I am not. And that’s not to denigrate her – rather than to honour her for knowing how to access what she needed, when every other avenue was closed to her.

Fiction-of-the-self does not subjugate or cauterise the wounding. It offers space for the pain to breath, to be, to gentle itself. It is a compassionate invitation into the embrace of solace, especially when there is no immediate relief available. It is perhaps the rawest and most intimate engagement with writing, because as writer and reader of, we are both within and beyond, autobiographer and weaver of fictions, voyeur and vicarious traveler through narratives we wish had never been written.

Raw and unrevised
A Pearl Threaded #1
A Pearl Threaded #2

Small Rebellious Acts of Creativity #5

Small Rebellious Acts of Creativity (#SRAOC) is a weekly invitation to explore a word, or phrase, through whichever creative avenue, platform or modality the participant wishes. It is intended to be a philosophical or creative catalyst moreso than a straight up writing prompt.

Small

Make it accessible for yourself. Easeful. Invite yourself into a place and a space free from the pressure of overwhelm. Pressure to perform. Keep it simple. Small is not subjugation. Small is not less than. Small carries a power all of its own. Gift yourself 5 minutes. Sometimes it doesn’t need to be anything more.

Rebellious

Rebel against apathy, procrastination, perfection, self contempt, self doubt, lack of confidence, lack of time, other people’s antagonism, lack of belief, the voice of the inner critic, and anything else that wants to tell you ‘no’. Flip the bird at your Imposter Complex. Interrogate. Innovate. Initiate. This is a space for saying yes.

Act Of

Do. Doable. Doing. Done. Even if it’s five bed-headed minutes, on a Wednesday morning, with your first infusion of caffeine for the day, tapping a list of ten things into your phone. Make a space. Fill it.

Creativity

Make something from nothing. Anything. The possibilities are endless. Draw. Paint. Build. Dance in the shower. Play. Howl. Doodle. Bake. Cut up poetry. Block out text. Collage magazine pictures. Snap a photograph. Garden. Read something aloud. Send someone a card. Make a digital mash-up. Create a playlist. Hum a song. Journal. Daybook. Write a list. Instagram a favourite quote. Play the instrument you have buried away in your cupboard.

This week’s invitation is…

We will be back Sunday to share our meanderings and renderings and to see where ‘the strength in fragility’ took you during the week.

SRAOC #4 The Strength of Fragility

Small Rebellious Acts of Creativity (#SRAOC) is a weekly invitation to explore a word, or phrase, through whichever creative avenue, platform or modality the participant wishes. It is intended to be a philosophical or creative catalyst moreso than a straight up writing prompt.

This week’s prompt was: The Strength of Fragility

JODI

What I am discovering with these prompts is the thinking, exploration and creative wandering that happens in my head is perhaps richer and more pertinent than anything tangible that comes of them. Each prompt is an invitation to go somewhere new, or to consider from a different perspective, somewhere old.

This week’s prompt created a juxtaposition of opposites –  strength and fragility — and as it turns out I misplaced the ‘of’ for ‘in’.  And fragility kept bringing to mind, vulnerability.

The first clip I have to offer came from a google search (as I attempted to quantify ‘what’ had strength and fragility) and then on the eve of this post, a second idea came organically, somewhere around the fridge precinct of the kitchen.

ADAM

The first thing I think of is that of a paper crane and the story of Sadako. I folded this from a 3″ square piece of newspaper. It’s uneven and messy but it captures for me the essence of strength and fragility.

I’ve heard this quote repeatedly, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing is so gentle as real strength.” And I believe it is an apt summation of me as a person. I am not your stereotypical male; I don’t fit the model of masculinity put forward by advertising, film, etc. I write, I (attempt to) draw, I play drums, I read books.
And so, the symbol of the crane is one that I have come to see as one of enduring strength in the midst of fragility.

I mean, I thought
sex
would be best
you shrugged

RUS

I.
I captured this image as I was turning around on Holly Beach Farm Road after doing some research about Chesapeake Bay. Although the photo shoot I was attempting to do was a bust, this photo was the blessing in disguise – literally. It has always served as a metaphor for strength in fragility for me; the doe is practically invisible as it takes great risks at sunrise to feed on early spring shoots. In the risks she takes, she is vulnerable. For me, there is great beauty within the pastels of this early morning. Her strength leads to fragility; and in her fragility, I am provided strength. 

II.
I am struck with the paradoxical box we creatives find ourselves in. I am immediately reminded of the oft-used quote by Red Smith: Writing is easy; just open your veins, and bleed.

Crazy, but it’s true. Authentic creativity, where we go beyond the superficiality of creating products for the masses by skimming the surface of our emotions and experiences, takes great risk and great strength. To reach those deeper emotions and the core of those experiences, we are required to “go deep” and open a vein, as Red Smith suggests.

It’s not easy, and with that strength, we find ourselves terribly exposed, vulnerable, fragile. But it’s the only way to create pieces that leave a mark, make a difference, change a moment or two in this world.

And, if we are lucky, bring a little strength and courage to others.

Paradoxical. Cyclical. Strength leads to fragility; fragility leads to strength.

Which validates every risk we take. Be strong in your fragility. And for those who have risked their fragility for me in the past, I thank you for your strength.