My hut on the island has no windows, no doors, no light except for the coarse glow of a computer screen, blank and lonely as I am though my mind is hardly blank. The words fall past my fingertips, swirling like an inexorable tropical tempest fed by sadness, the eye of it ringed by fury, the edges by rejection. Yet on and on I write …
Before we get to today’s advice for the second of five posts in the On Writing, On Wednesday series, let’s toss the large elephant out of the room. Then we should apologize for being so rude to an elephant and then also apologize because elephants are endangered and why the heck are we keeping one in our room anyway? Still, we are and here it is: I am a cliché. Oh, a sulky, sensitive, introverted writer, how thoroughly unoriginal. But to that allegation I reply: Meh. I’m not going to apologize. I am who I am. (There. Elephant, tossed.)
If you meet me in person, you’d come to find I don’t mope around (for the most part) and I’m not in a perpetual state of crank. I also do have a friend or two (three if you count my dog) and I don’t live in an empty hut on a deserted island somewhere between Madagascar and Fiji, so remote it’s missed even on maps drawn by the most learned of cartographers. Still, from a completely subjective standpoint, I do my best work when I’m miserable and alone. Except in this concept, I am not alone … and gladly though undeservedly join the company of bazillion-record-selling singer/songwriter Sheryl Crow. The superstar chanteuse had this to say in a 2010 Glamour magazine interview with reporter Katie Couric when asked if she writes better songs in happiness or in pain …
“Not when I’m happy,” Crow told Couric. “I don’t want to sit down and write when I’m happy. When I’m happy, I want to be doing something joyful. Writing for me is not necessarily a joyful experience, it’s more of a … I hate to use the word cathartic cause it’s so … ”
But we’ve addressed that already so now let’s just admit Crow speaks the truth. Writing—like so many other isolating artistic endeavors—can be both a passion and a pain. It can also transform pain into passion, like the awful sting of heartbreak or the hurt of a close friendship gone awry. The practice of turning sadness into stories, once fully grasped, becomes almost a meditation of sorts, purging your system of melancholy and allowing that despair to drain from your body through a literary sieve, dripping into the world as wonderful words and tales.
Get sad … that’s today’s advice? Lame, you protest. But no, I don’t mean get sad exactly; I just mean to let you know that from the darkest corners of your mind—or a hut with no windows and no doors—can come the purest of light.