The price.

For the last several months I’ve been meditating on a big idea. A vast, multi-faceted idea. An idea that can be approached from different sides and attacked from numerous angles. An idea that for me, as an artist and as a creative being, is on par with questions like ‘What is the meaning of life?’ ‘What’s my higher purpose?’ and ‘Why are we all here?’

I don’t think I can tackle the question weighing on my mind in one post. It’s too big. It will probably become a recurring theme in my work (echoes of it appear in my blog, Broken), or in a series of posts. I’m not sure yet.

But, to begin. What I’ve been puzzling over is this: in order to create great art, is suffering a necessary, and in fact, inevitable, part of the process?

Our history is rife with visionary creators who harbored broken souls. Tennessee Williams, Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath. More recently, Heath Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The talented and tortured musicians who are members of that infamous 27 club: Jimi, Janis, Jim, Kurt, Amy.

There’s no doubt that among the gifted and the sensitive, there’s a proclivity toward addiction and self-destruction. But why? Don’t mistake me; I’m not suggesting that in order to be a great artist (or even a mediocre one), alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, even suicidal tendencies, are a prerequisite. If anything, this toxic and destructive behavior produces inertia that stands in the way of the creative process. But the idea that I keep coming back to is this: as artists, we suffer more than the rest of people. We feel things more exquisitely. In order to be visionary, we must be honest to the point that it’s painful. We must be willing to expose our most private, secret parts, our deepest vulnerabilities, and the darkest parts of our hearts. We must walk into the full range of human emotions open and unguarded.   And for that, we pay a hefty price.

I have a uniquely personal experience with the idea that the act of creation produces suffering, and it’s the reason I’ve been meditating on it at such great length. Over the last year and a half, I’ve lost three of the most important people in my life in dramatic fashion. And I lost not only their physical presence, but also something much deeper and more profound. Through their deaths, I’ve been faced with hard truths about my family that I didn’t want to know. Truths that have shaken and shattered my foundation and left me questioning everything I thought I knew: my childhood, my relationships, my history, and my very identity.

But here’s the gift. When I finally, recently, landed at zero, I became more creative. My writing got better. Ideas started clicking, and synapses started firing in a way they never had before. I found myself suddenly harnessing an authority that I’d never owned before; an authority that I’m not only compelled to share with others, but an authority that I have to share in order to survive. I know this like I know the color of my eyes or the place that I was born.

All human beings suffer. It’s inevitable. We make terrible, tragic mistakes. We experience great pain. We love deeply and we lose profoundly. Most people don’t walk into these emotions willingly. They avoid them because they’re painful, and only experience them as the inevitable by-product of being alive. But as artists, we wade into the most intense human experiences willfully, and with abandon. We welcome the pain, the joy, the agony and the ecstasy. We say bring it on. We want to feel everything. But sometimes we feel too much. Enter booze, drugs, sex, crazy, destructive behavior, in order to numb the pain. And that’s when we get into trouble.

Speaking from personal experience, it’s incredibly difficult to put my heart on the line and my grief on display in such a vulnerable way without becoming a little fucked up and unhealthy about it in the process. The intense feelings I’ve been wading into and moving through have made me feel closer to Tennessee and to Sylvia and to Vincent and to Kurt. I understand them better. My gift and my curse is that the hole in my heart is only filled through sharing my very personal story with the world. And yet to sit in those feelings without letting them swallow me whole is the great challenge that I’m still trying to sort out. The powerful conundrum that we face as artists is that our very lives depend on telling our stories – honestly, openly, nakedly, no holds barred – and yet the act of doing so is so dangerous to our psyches that it threatens our survival. It is the ultimate Catch 22, the tightrope we must all walk.

And so, my fellow poets, beautiful dreamers, dear friends, brave and broken souls, I invite you to join me in meditation on this question: how do we do what we must do, what we were born and put on this earth to do, without allowing it to destroy us?

It’s an open dialogue, if you’d like to have it.

Until next time, friends.

Broken.

I needed to have my heart broken in order to feel alive.  I needed to have my heart broken in order to understand my capacity for love.  I needed to be devastated, destroyed, pushed beyond the brink of what I thought I was capable of, beyond all reason, beyond all hope, to know with certainty that hope was the only thing worth holding on to.

I needed to lose everything – my pride, my love, my mind, every inch of earth upon which I stood to understand that I would do anything – claw and fight and scrape – to rebuild what I had lost into something different, something stronger, something better.

I didn’t want any of this.  Any of it.  I tried desperately to hold on even while the center was caving in all around me.  Even while I could feel the universe laughing in my face at how futile it was to try to hold on, like clinging to bits of string while the great downy quilt was breaking apart into piles of feathers, blowing in the wind into nothing.

There’s a hole inside me now.  It used to be filled up with all the things I thought I knew.  Now it’s just a great cavernous hole.  Nothing will fill it.  I write and I play scenes and I work and I dream while I’m awake and it all helps, but nothing, nothing fills it.  It’s an ever-present ache.  It drives me, it fuels me with fire, it burns my insides.  It hurts, but in a strange way I need it.  It reminds me that I can’t stop, that I can’t go back.  It reminds me of who I am.

If you could see me now, what would you think of me?  Would I scare you?  Would you be proud of me?  Sometimes in my dreams we’re laughing.  We’re warm and safe.  And sometimes you’re in pain and you’re afraid.  I reach out for you but you dissolve and disappear into nothing.  Sometimes I wake up screaming.

I didn’t want any of this.  I often wish that it hadn’t happened.  That I didn’t know what I know.  That life hadn’t slapped me across the face with these incredible, unthinkable truths.

I didn’t want this.  But the sweet irony is that I needed it.  I needed it to forge me and to shape me and to understand just what the hell it is I’m made of.  I am dark and sharp-edged and tough, yet at the same time as fragile as a porcelain doll, one fall away from splintering into shards of glass.  I don’t welcome the break.  But I know now it’s inevitable.  And when it happens I will build myself back up.  Each time a little stronger, but each time a little less.

God, I miss you.  I miss you so much that I can’t think about it too much or breathing becomes impossible. I would give anything to wrap my arms around you and tell you that.  But I can’t.  So I wrap my arms around myself instead and I tell myself that I’m enough.  That I will make it through this.  That the hard fought truths that now reside in the base of my being are truths that you already knew.  That you always knew.  Truths that you wanted to teach me but that I had to learn for myself through fire, through pain, through this incredible longing and ache that will never, ever go away.

I needed to be broken in order to understand the depths of my heart.  I needed to lose everything in order to know how much more I still stand to gain.  I needed to have my faith shaken to the core in order to understand how powerful it is to say, “I believe.”  I needed to have my heart shattered in order to feel alive.  I needed it.  But that doesn’t mean that I like it.

Blog at WordPress.com.