There’s a saying, rendered unto jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.” In drumming parlance, it’s the space between the strokes you play that can be as important as the hits you make on the drum or cymbal.
This song has one of my favourite drum grooves where space holds the song in the interplay between hi-hats, snare and bass drum. That tension exists between groove and bombast, which kicks in for the chorus.
We inhabit the spaces of our world.
We hold space for others.
We’re quick to grasp it.
We’re slow to release it.
Our mass is made up of indescribable particles that inhabit the space within the framework of an atom.
We are dependent on space.
And within that void we hold the power of story.
We all remember stories that have an impact on our lives, the books we read or the movies we saw from our childhood, adolescence and adulthood. We internalise the characters, their dialogue, their idiosyncrasies, their hopes and dreams as if they were our own.
But beyond the story are the bigger ideas, the deeper questions nestled within the text and wrapped up in the books on our shelf or in the pockets of our favourite jacket. We take them, often unconsciously, and slip them between the pages of our notebooks or hide them under our pillows or tuck them into the folds of our shirt sleeves. Into the quiet spaces.
The power of the story lies within the big ideas or questions revealed in the narrative. These big ideas and questions find their expression and meaning in the actions and emotions of individual characters going about their day-to-day business.
We, as reader, understand the narrative as a microscopic view of a telescopic realm. The narrative is a parable of meaning expressed in the actions of fictional characters we believe to be real because we understand their lives as if they were ours.
This is the power of story.
And we weave a story from a single thought.
A single word.
This is one reason why I like blackout, or erasure, poetry. I aim to find the story within the words given to me on the page, bring them to the front and then erase those words which no longer serve a purpose. Blackout poetry serves as a place of rest and quiet, of fun and enjoyment.
Words invite us to the table. To make conversation with one another. To make space in our lives for each other.
Writing creates a space for you as the individual to explore who you are, to understand what shapes and forms you, to appreciate the silences midst the noise.
Words hold that tension of calling words into being from eternity against the silence of contemplation and thought.
As writers, we are intimately engaged with the art and process of telling stories. What we can forget is the conceptual power of narrative is greater than the fiction we create, or the poetry we pen, or the ideas strung together in non-fiction. Narrative is a hardwired aspect of human existence. It forms the basis of our identity: how we make sense of the world and our place in it; how we behave, express ourselves, and make decisions; the core beliefs and values we adopt. Our personal narratives are fundamental to understanding who we are, and for those willing to go deeper, how and why we are.
As writers we are no different. We create deep and often invisible narratives about ourselves as ‘Writer’, around writing, and how we engage and seek to be seen in the worlds within and beyond us. Some narratives free us into authenticity, truth, joy and passion. Other narratives disable and disengage us, create suffering and disconnection.
This where I found myself in 2017, with deeply embedded fears (maybe a side serve of surrender) that I was Writer Interrupted, and what I was experiencing was possibly a terminal interruption in what had been a decades-long love affair with writing.
The deeper and more profoundly dysfunctional my chronic depression became (and it’s sidekick insomnia), the harder I dug in with my writing. It was 2014, the second year of homeschooling my son, and I knew writing held the key to feeling better. It was the only space I entered and felt truly free. But as the year progressed, I became obsessive about writing. The more I was rejected, the more I wrote. Consequently, I moved further away from freedom, from all the good parts of writing, into darker places. It was like course correcting in heavy seas and each new navigational decision, born of a survival reaction (rather than a survival response), pushed me deeper into more treacherous seas.
In September 2014, I finally gave up submitting stories and within a week of this decision, I received my first acceptance for the year, for a project I was deeply in love with. I was very clear though: this was not an invitation back on the write-submit-reject-infinitum cycle which had burnt me.
There were brief and sporadic returns to writing in 2015 and 2016, but something inside me was fundamentally warped. Disconnected. Distraught. Heart broken. It kept me distanced from what had been my greatest love—my truest passion.
As the years fed into each other, from 2015 into 2016 and beyond, I felt momentary reprieves from the bleakness when I wrote for The JAR Story project, an idea Rus had gifted the three of us. There, I was able to write effortlessly, with incredible joy, unprecedented focus, and a skill and precision I had never experienced. Outside of there, I became increasingly antagonist toward anything associated with writing – past, present and future.
KILL YOUR DARLINGS
I will be honest: things became intolerable. The only reason I stayed a peripheral part of so many writing-related things was I am loyal to the last breath. But like last drinks called, the last breaths of this incarnation were calling me to make difficult decisions. It was closing time.
I left the online writing group I’d founded, and I didn’t look back. It was an immediate weight off my heart. The whole thing had been making me miserable as I veered more toward poetry, as a survival tact, and increasingly away from fiction and any desire to invest in beta reading or editing for others.
I officially closed eMergent Publishing. I realised that even if I had money, health, focus and energy – it had been set up as a joint vision. Without Paul, there was no eMergent. It was as complicated and simple as that. With that knowledge, I let go with grace and allowed in the reminders of the incredible legacy we left (which had little to do with the back catalogue of 13 books) and moved on.
Then, as the ends were tied, I was invited to read at a local bookstore. It was a big bucket list item, yet I felt empty. I said yes to being part of the launch because I thought I needed to. As it approached, I knew this was my last hurrah and as much as I didn’t want to show up, I had to. From there, I went quietly into the night, knowing never is a very fucking long time so there was no point in invoking it—appreciating things change.
And they did.
No sooner had I taken a graceful exit than Adam messaged to say we’d been invited to directly submit Post Marked: Piper’s Reach to a publisher. Yes, I said. I had no illusions it would be successful. In fact, part of me was happy for it to be yet another failed attempt to get someone as excited by it, as we still were. We were offered a publishing contract on the eclipse on Feb1st 2018 and I knew the Universe was not yet done with me as a writer.
NOT DONE YET
So, if the Universe was not yet done with me, then I had to stop being done with me and the role of writing in my life.
Serendipity stepped in and I was gifted a six-week course on manifesting your dreams. In my work at Soul Lyrical, I spend my time unearthing, unpicking and helping people recognize where their core narratives undermine them and assist in re-writing new, cognizantly aligned ones. It was time I turned these skills toward writing and me… and the door opened.
The first thing that became apparent was I had course corrected myself so far away from my home port, I no longer remembered that I had one, much less how to get back there.
I was invited back into the beginning: to remember why I first wrote.
I was 10 when I first discovered the magick of writing.
Why did I do it? I did it because I could (and that’s not the ‘could’ wrapped up in adult notions of talent or skill) I could write because I had the capacity to pick up a biro, steal my mother’s shitty notepad, and slip away to write stories about a yellow dog who lived on a farm. In doing this, I discovered the joy of entertaining myself with writing. It’s interesting to note that my 10-year-old self never bound her stories into a ‘book’. No cover. No author name. Writing from the beginning was a deeply personal endeavor I did for myself.
Moving into adolescent, I extended the readership of one – me – into an intimate group of my closest friends and that’s how it stayed until my final year at high school when I wrote a novel, for an English communications project, with the intention of submitting it for publication. That was the beginning of the moving away… of the change which ended with me walking totally away 20 years later.
The honest truth is, I’ve only ever been compelled to write for myself. And I write because I love it. As a teenager I pursed it for escapism. As an adult the siren-song of deep immersion remains a core motivation – the different is what I am running toward, rather than running from. And the high. The fucking brilliant high of having written.
In the excavations, I saw how in disconnecting from my core narratives, I’d lost my authentic Self-As-Writer and moved into a shadow identity, obsessed with publication as a way to justify my existence as a writer (at a time when I was having a hard time justifying my existence as a human being). This identity, incongruent with my core narratives, created constant dissonance and in the end I did the only thing that made sense – I created an interruption and stopped the pain and discomfort. At some point, self-protection kicks in.
What shocked me was how quickly everything shifted when I reconnected with my writing origins and remembered those core narratives; remembered the why. Not long after, eight key points came to me, put down in a mission statement as insurance against ever losing my way again.
I hope I never forget I write first and foremost for myself; that this is the beginning and end. This is how easy and difficult love can be.
Writing is where my joy lives; what fills me, expands and nourishes me.
This is my truth. What is yours?
Poetry: Jodi Cleghorn
Source Text: If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler (Italo Calvino)
Photograph: Erich Hartmann, Paris (1982) via Magnum Photos