If you are a crooked tree, you are crooked but you are still a tree.
That you are anomalous is clear. No other tree looks like you and you could not be mistaken for any one of the other thousands of trees in the forest. You occupy your own ground. But when the wind hails ferocious through the woods, you need to bend along with the others or you won’t last. Your uniqueness won’t save you.
Allan Ginsberg once said, “Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” It was an exhortation to writers that is presented more fully here. Ginsberg went on to say this, “You say what you want to say when you don’t care who’s listening. If you’re grasping to get your own voice, you’re making a strained attempt to talk, so it’s a matter of just listening to yourself as you sound when you’re talking about something that’s intensely important to you.”
In my own writing, I aim for the things that are difficult. I started my blog, Red’s Wrap, for the single purpose of telling adoption stories. Convinced that the adoption mural was too taken up by cute babies in the arms of overjoyed parents, I set about telling my tales of complexity and nuance. My adopted children were adults by the time I started so I had their whole lives to use as material. Until, of course, I realized that their lives belonged to them. If they were crooked trees (or not), they had their own roots and branches and were no longer mine to claim.
Understanding that I had to let go of their lives, both emotionally and from a writing point of view, I turned to other difficult issues, things that were more immediate and pressing for me. Like dealing with aging and trying to overcome or at least live with my hearing loss. So I took those roads for a while until they got rutted and worn. Oh God, I thought, would I read this if I wasn’t writing it?
It is possible to talk about something that is “intensely important to you” and bore yourself at the same time.
Alright, I say to myself, so you are getting older and you have a disability, what else have you got? Is your crookedness all you are?
I gravitate to people and writers who consider themselves or whom others consider to be damaged in some way. I find angst attractive but only if the angst colors but doesn’t define the whole picture. A man missing a leg isn’t just a legless man, a mother of an autistic child still argues with friends and has sex with her husband. The one thing that seems at the center of everything can’t be the only thing because, over time, it becomes too small and redundant. Angst is best when it is new, right off the shelf and still in its original wrapping.
Writers whose writing uses the same five words of their troubles over and over in new configurations exhaust me and I let them go. It seems as if by the act of writing, they have accentuated their crookedness, made it more extreme and deified it. Every word and every thought is in service to what is wrong. It’s predictable and untalented.
Instead, use the missing leg to give me a different way to see the world. Do what Ginsberg says, “don’t hide the madness” but don’t live in your madness so long you convince yourself that it will continue to be beautiful and entrancing to friends and readers who aren’t mad. There is a limit to curiosity.
It’s rare that I would give advice to other writers. I plug along with my 600 word pieces here, then there. But maybe my advice is to writers and people in general. You are more than your madness.
Use your madness to see the world and then tell us about it.
Written in response to a prompt from The Daily Post entitled ‘Howl at the Moon.’ Thank you, Daily Post, this was a good one!