Originally published on The Honeyed Quill
My friend is living in an abusive situation. She is the first to admit that her situation has to change, and that she has to change it. But she is afraid. She has taken steps forward and backward, knowing that neither place is where she wants to be. Now she finds herself sapped and exhausted, her normally abundant creative well dry.
Fight or flight, the human fear response, means, when threatened, you defend either by standing up in defiance or running away to stay safe. When we stay in this state for extended periods of time, we cultivate emotionally closed behavior. In effect, we hide. We all do it. It's a natural response we have to learn to circumvent because living in this closed state means living without creativity. Creativity is the water in the well now behind a locked door. In order for my friend to re-access her creativity (and her joy), she will have to open the door by confronting her fear.
Fearful situations are not new to me. I have lived in fear and some days I am still encapsulated by it. Fear is the single greatest hamper to writing fruitfully. I often choose not to write because I am afraid to write honestly.
Honesty is immensely important in any form of writing. The most obvious is journalism. How many journalists or memoirists have fallen from grace when a grain of truth was discovered to be a seed of falsehood? Truth is the spine of good poetry. It beats in every word choice, and rides the verbs directly to the heart of the reader. And so it is true for fiction, where authenticity is revealed by the turning of the leaves in Fall or the clear movements of a character engaged in an act as mundane as a fireside nose-picking.
We have all heard or been told to write what we know. That statement is the core of writer's block for the fearful. At our best, writers compose directly from the heart. For me, writing about what I know means about abuse and the ways hurt can be passed on well after it's genesis. In order to create work worth reading, I sit in the pain of my characters, or relive my own dark histories. When I don't write, it is because I am either afraid to experience those hurts, or I am afraid to share them.
I might think too long about myself on the page. After all, the basis of pain in my work frequently stems from authentic personal experience. While the pain belongs to my characters, it also belongs to me. When my characters are read, I am also read. Frankly, I don't always want to be read. And I don't always feel it's fair to share the hurts I have been given; those moments were always shared either by the person giving the hurt, or someone receiving it with me. This fear stems from judgment. What will the outside world say? How will my family feel about me "tattling?" So I close down. I think other thoughts, and the distance between myself and the page is born.
My husband is fond of saying, "If your abusers don't want the world to know they abused you, they shouldn't have abused you. It's not your job to hide what they did."
He's right. We are responsible for our own actions. If you don't want the world to know you're an abuser, don't be an abuser. But you can't expect the victim of your abuse to remain silent to the grave, especially in the days of public media.
Further, compartmentalizing the ugly pieces of my life experience means denying part of myself. Those horrible moments continue to shape me. They are as much of me as my children or teachers who amazed me, or my husband who supports me as I unclothe my victimization on paper.
One choice I make is to write, but write for me. To that end, I have an entire journal dedicated to things that piss me off. I have written pages of intense, loathing-filled, most likely unforgivable statements. I cry while I write, or write in all capitals, or underline ferociously. If I'm too horrified by what I've admitted, I can burn it later. What lies between the covers of my anger journal is probably the most authentic, raw writing I have ever done.
Whether we are writing for ourselves or for the world, fear can cut off the creative flow. When this happens, we have a couple of choices: we can stop writing, or we can write.
We may not intend to stop writing. I have woken up to find the muse gone. That access is never barred forever. In fact, it took me years to learn that I was angry, and it took me months after that to realize that it was okay to be angry. When I stopped hiding and faced my anger, I was able to stop judging myself for being angry and just be angry. It was liberating.
Please notice that I had to stop hiding from my anger. I was afraid of the anger, and I had to deal with that fear in order to write. The inability to touch your creative flow is the unwillingness to step into that deeply authentic space where the fear churns.
To write means to face that fear.
Seeing fear allows fear. As this is not an easily penetrable idea, I will expand it: Seeing our fear means admitting that we are afraid. If we reach this point, we can gently remind ourselves that it is okay to be afraid. If we can admit our fear, we can accept our fear. If we can accept our fear, our fear will fade. Amazingly, it will fade without digging deep into why or how we are afraid. The trick is in opening the door. Or removing the block.
But what if that block is a person?
Here's the thing--if there is a person standing in the way of your truth, they will most likely expose themselves by getting loud, going on the offensive and striking at your core. Feel bad for them. They are just as afraid of the truth as you are, but they are choosing to remain it's victim instead of becoming a survivor. Feel bad for them, but distance yourself and write anyway.