The other day while giving my heart a little love on the elliptical at the gym, I listened to writer, Elizabeth Gilbert talk to a singer songwriter on her Big Magic Podcast. The woman had suffered through the death of her sister and was paralyzed with the overwhelming weight of her grief. She wasn’t ready to write about her sister. But yet she wanted to write about her sister. She was conflicted.
On these podcasts, Gilbert calls other creative people for their take and on this particular call, she reached out to novelist, Ann Patchett for her advice on how to help this brave young woman.
Her advice was that she absolutely had to write about her sister. She spoke of the two different processes at play. She spoke about the creative process and that one can “never shut a door to creativity.”
Then after allowing oneself the freedom to write whatever needs to be written, the decision becomes what to do with it. Whether to share it and what parts to share, keep it, or get rid of it.
Whether to keep the writing to ourselves or share it is our decision to make. But we cannot let this quandary of what to say, how to say it, and what will others think, get in the way of expressing our grief. Or any of our emotions and experiences for that matter.
Patchett said in regards to her own experience with grief and writing after losing a dear friend, that it was like “sticking her hand on the eye of the stove.” “How long can I leave it there?” Some days the answer was not very long.
“How could what I write possibly be worthy?” This is the impossible thing she says, but “in facing the impossible thing, you tell the truth. You keep trying. You realize the limitations of words and music to possibly express this love.”
But you tell the truth, you keep trying. Even if you can only keep your hand on that hot stove for a brief moment.
I believe when we write or create from a place of grief or struggle, we change our relationship to it. It becomes part of our life and not something to avoid. I’m not sure grief ever fully goes away. But maybe it can be transformed if we work with it, create from it, move with it, learn from it, and ultimately share it.
Listening to this story reminded me of an Oscar-nominated documentary by Tomasz Śliwiński called, The Curse about a young couple in Warsaw and their beloved new son. The boy, Leo, had been diagnosed with an incurable disorder affecting his breathing. He could only be kept alive on a ventilator. It was agonizing to watch but also beautiful to witness such love. The father and filmmaker said this of his decision to film and then share their story:
“That period of our lives was depressing and devastating. But shooting this film helped us a great deal. It kept us going; instead of succumbing to depression, we could direct our energy into something creative. At the time, we were not sure if we were going to show this film to anyone – it felt much too intimate and private. However, after a few months I realized that we had gone through the universal process of coping with any obstacle, even one that seems impossible at first. It was then that I felt that we should share this experience with others. I decided to complete the film.”
When I read this for the first time I felt the desperation in his chest. The desperation in his chest and in his throat. It was too much to bear alone. But channeling his suffering into something creative and then sharing it, somehow helped change the experience. It was still awful and hard but there was so much beauty and love around it too. It was uplifting. It was almost as if surrounding his pain with art, he also made a new opening, a new possibility, a new realm to another more understanding world where pain can be transformed and healing occurs.
In another podcast I listened to recently, Elizabeth Gilbert mentioned that the definition of the word responsibility is the ability to respond.
It makes me wonder…How do we respond to struggle? To suffering, to obstacles, to grief, to being human? Do we do it alone? Can we do it together? How can we try?
It can be scary living and creating from such a vulnerable and open place. And sometimes it is scary for those of us viewing it. But it is real. And at least we are trying. One word, one brush stroke, one touch of the stove at a time.
For more info on Elizabeth Gilbert and her wonderful podcast on creativity, go to http://www.elizabethgilbert.com
and for more info on Leo and his brave story you can check out his father’s blog at http://www.leoblog.pl/en/