Where writing comes from

I have had a very strange relationship with writing.  For a long time, the written word was my therapy.  My writing was sad, dark, shot through with dark things - wet rocks, caves, dark ribbon in dark hair, memorials and things gone by.  I didn't mean to be dark but for me it was process, and the process was important.  Writing was an undertaking.  I would sit down and focus my thoughts and write, write.  Half of what I wrote was just getting it out, and at least half that other half would never see anyone but myself. 

But at times, the writing would be ecstatic.  It would reach beyond the known and into the air, for the clouds.  It would be full of vegetables and promises, and it would dance in the gardens instead of lurking in the parlor.I would scribble it on napkins, wipe a spill, toss away.  I'd hand-craft paper from pulp and write on it, cast it into the water to simulate the way the words can fall unheard.

As a woman with a mood disorder, it's been interesting to see how my writing is changed by my varying moods, and to try to harness my different writing patterns.  After I did most of my MFA (which I never really did finish), I was tired of the words.  I turned my back on them, and looked to my family, put my head down, and thought things out.  I went to real therapy, not words and thinking on my own.   My life changed, and I emerged, no longer needing mood balancing medications, to find that writing was a stranger to me.  How was I to approach this creature which used to nurture my moods and let me revel in them when I was trying to live life more peaceful, more centered? 

I had come so far in my real therapy, not my writing, that I never felt that calm despair that bred the brooding darkness.  I never felt that high pitched, uncontrolled gasping for air that would make me write and write from sundown to sunup.  How was I to approach writing at all? Would I be able to write?  Was creativity gone?  Had I dried up the well of discontent that caused me to write so many things?

So I considered it.  And I wrote a tribute poem to my fiance, then not-yet my fiance.  I did it in calligraphy on paper I designed, and I framed it, and it was beautiful.  To look at.  I was unsure if it was beautiful to read.  I came to a realization though - it didn't matter.  If I felt love when I wrote it, and he felt love when he read it, it was a communication between the two of us, and if it crossed the line from sentiment into sentimentality, so what?  Who was harmed?

He loved it.  He loved it and had never received something like that, something that sort of hand made, not hand made but thought made, brain made, hand and heart and eye in one union made.  We got engaged, and I still think of that poem - though it's not on our walls, having cracked the glass in our move.  It doesn't matter - it was there.

I began to wonder - can my writing come from this place of calm assurance, this happiness I'd carved for myself, and strength inside of me?  I wrote a poem commemorating the memorial horn.  I wrote poems about vegetables to add to a sequence I'd done earlier.  I wrote poems about joy.  And I could!  I could write, and I could write from a different place.  I discovered that controlling my moods had not had a negative effect on my work, but a positive one. 

I'm still exploring how to write this happiness without sounding like a complete and utter sap, and I'm not really upset if I do sound like a sap.  It's wonderfully liberating!

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  • Nissi Mutale

    Learning to write from a different place is such a beautiful experience. It is exciting to see how writing changes according to our moods and the different ways we can use words to express and make sense of situations.