The Life and Death of My Creativity

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It is said that one of the prerequisites of creativity is to have had experienced childhood trauma. Read the works of any great Irish writer (Frank McCourt, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce) and you will clearly see that youthful pain and suffering fueled much of their creative genius.   And while I do not claim to be remotely on par with these incredible storytellers, to read any of my writing is to know that  childhood trauma played a significant role in the determination of my creative voice.  To be honest, my youth unfolded like the discarded first  draft of a story that could have been so much better. There simply weren’t enough stretches of peace or joy in it to attend to the edits necessary to have made it bearable.  It isn’t that I am filled with regret for all of the things that might have been.  It’s more that I am blanketed in a sadness for the sheer waste of it all.

Intuitively, I know that my broken juvenile years  can’t be the full measure of why I write the way I write.  Something deeper, more sinister, is afoot. Something bigger and more malevolent presses my pen to the paper. For me, the value of nothing out of nothing comes something. The nothing started even earlier than the moment when I began to write.  I have no doubt that what little creativity I possess is the function of some neurological quirk; that I have just enough of psychosis or depression to fuel an interesting poem here, an article there. That creativity (if that’s even the word for it)  is not, in any circumstance, the product of “talent” or creative muse, but rather arises more as a testament to a damaged mind that perceives the events of life from a slightly more skewed or twisted perspective.

Perhaps it was the combination of the two: an injured adolescence and a form of brain damage.  When I was four years old, I fell down the stairwell of the two story duplex my family lived in while my father was stationed in the Navy.  I was rushed to the hospital because the fall had resulted in a crushing blow to the frontal temporal region of my skull.  Surely, my brain was impacted, if not forever altered because of this accident.  Combine that blow with the endless physical and sexual trauma that rejoined the family the day my father retired from service, and then, perhaps  I can begin to put my finger upon my “creativity.”

Ask yourself…what can be more creative than scrambling daily throughout your entire childhood to find a place to survive.  Out of necessity, the damaged mind constructs a false reality in which to take shelter. It is this false reality that takes form in the expressive arts.

I may never know what truly fuels my creative process.  The sands of time that fill the hourglass of my life have nearly run out.  While I am by no means an old man, I am, nonetheless, a tired man and my time upon this tortured plane of existence called “life” can now be measured in moments rather than years. I will leave behind me no great works of art, no lasting legacy of poetic genius.  Even the memory of me will fade before the ink is dry on my final written word.

Mine has been a lonely walk: solitude whispers a silent story. And as we all know, life and living require interaction. But I was born alone, have lived alone, and will undoubtedly die…alone.  And that doesn’t require creativity.

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The Case Against “Fluff” Pieces on WordPress

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I might safely estimate that well over 80% of the material I have read on WordPress is what we writers might call “fluff” pieces. A “fluff piece” is a news story or pieces of writing which are essentially feel good op-eds.  The writing is meant to be cute, funny, or something like that. For example, if a writer does a story about kittens, it is a “fluff piece”.  Stories about kittens are essentially unimportant (oh, I can hear the hate mail churning!) The writer chose to write about kittens, not because it was important, but because it is cute and may help his/her viewer stats.

Fluff may take on numerous guises.  Aforementioned kittens?  Fluff.  Family travel logs?  Fluff.  Best make-up products on the market?  Fluff.  But to me,  the most offending piece of fluff on the WordPress market today are the countless stories that try desperately to convince the reader that the universe we live in; the planet we inhabit; the relationships we take shelter in – all of these somehow rotate within and upon some essentially pleasing spindle they call “goodness.”  Mostly, this goodness online is ego-defined as some omnipresent benefactor lovingly watching over us, raining upon our precious little heads measures of good fortune, benevolence, and unconditional love.  Yeah…fluff!

You have to travel far and wide into the ether of WordPress to hear an opposing viewpoint to this endless vomiting of “goodness.”  While the writer of such pieces may feel justified because he or she just can’t contain the fact that something made them happy, they have to purposefully put on blinders so as not to disturb their nirvana with snapshots of the truth.  The world is not essentially “good.”  Fluff is fleeting.

More than 5/8ths of the world’s population live in impoverished and violent conditions, whether that violence is nature driven or man-made.  To them, this vaporous concept of “life is good” is like a fleeting but violent wind that passes over them and cuts them sharply to the bone.  They are as aware of the “goodness” showered upon the fortunate few as we are willfully ignorant of their pain and suffering.

If you are fortunate enough to own a computer and have the luxury of spending your free time posting online, chances are these people live in the periphery of your vision.  You only glimpse them briefly on sensationalized news channels that can be quickly turned over to a “fluff” program like American Idol.  It just “feels better” not to notice.  Don’t lie…we have all been guilty of looking away to ease our conscience.

Yet there they are…the majority of the earth’s population starving, dying of treatable disease, buried to their necks in the fire-ant-ridden blazing sands of poverty and violence as the majority of us munch away on cheese-laden nachos while watching the Super Bowl.  It just feels better not to notice.  We need the “fluff” in our lives with which to stuff our ears and block out the infernal screams of our dying brothers and sisters.   By the way, if the term “brothers and sisters” offend, I’ve made my case.

You need proof?  Admit it.  Most of those who started reading this post have surfed to another WordPress freshly-pressed site about kittens, or dating advice, or how-to-be happy sites because, well…it simply “feels better.”  We need our goodness fix.  We need our fluff.  The only people who will read this through to the end are the artists and poets who understand that life is anything but benevolent and “good.”  They recognize, in their works, the crush of human apathy and indifference toward the brutal suffering of the “least” of our brethren.  They know because they don’t run from suffering…they run toward it.  Not to shun it, but to embrace it and evolve as human beings.

It appears the editorial staff of WordPress is complicit in the spewing of “fluff” when you consider that poets and artists are freshly-pressed much, much less than the feel-good article writers.  You won’t read this on WordPress because it feels “bad.” It probably isn’t a conscious decision on their part; it’s basic fluff survival 101: who wants to read depressing shit?  It just doesn’t sell!

The artists and poets of WordPress may be less visible, but they are there.  Shame on WordPress for making them enter in the dark and through the back door.  They struggle in vain to instruct a worldview that is ultimately a call to action.  They use their words to scatter the razor-toothed rats that gnaw on the emaciated bones of the poor, the hungry, the murdered masses. Poets and artists know there is goodness out there…they truly do. They see “goodness” descend upon the more fortunate, while the bulk of humanity suffers in despair and agonizing isolation.  They just refuse to wear the blinders.

For myself, I no longer really give a damn about this fleeting goodness. I’ve been shot, stabbed, robbed, and violated in a thousand ways that more than fill one lifetime of despair. And yes, in case you’ve ever read my writing, I have buried my grief and pain in ample cups of amber absolution and beneath the press of fentanyl patches.  I, too, am a coward. If there is goodness in my life, it is only there to mock the other 99.9% of my existence so far. I’m not happy, that is true. But I’d rather spend eternity locked in the pages of Baudelaire and Rimbaud than spend another minute reading about your “kittens.”

Perhaps that’s why most of my postings are poems.  Poetry allows a writer to scream invectives to an unjust, unhearing, apathetic God (who, in my opinion, is the ultimate piece of “fluff)  I’ve seen others (Sandy Hook, Aurora, Iraq, the Sudan comes to mind) who have seen their human potential snuffed out by either extreme violence, (human against human) or natural disaster (famine, floods, disease).  I’ve seen the children of Syria and Libya and Somalia, and, well…spin the globe and press your finger upon it.  It will almost certainly stop at one of these hellholes devoid of human compassion.  The majority of the world’s populations are simply ground to dust by the merciless millstone of life.

I am happy for those of you who believe the illusion that “evil” is the transitory state of humanity and that “good” is the true, permanent human blessing. WordPress appears to exist so that you can dine on a steady diet of “fluff.”  I just don’t see that wide-eyed gorging of “feel good” backed up by facts.  I’ll continue reading your fluff because people like me are more in need of a laugh than just about anybody. I just can’t join you at that particular ”hallelujah” table.  Enjoy the fruits of this “goodness”, but never forget that even more of your brethren have never known such feel-good promise in their lives…and “fluff” just won’t fill distended bellies or bind up the bleeding wounds.

Confessions of a Taphophile

Let’s get the name-calling out of the way first. I am a confessed taphophile.

The word is of Greek origin: τάφος (taphos, “funeral rites”, “burial”, “funeral”, “wake”; “tomb”, “grave”) + English -phile (Forming nouns and adjectives meaning “loving” and “friendly”, or “lover” and “friend”.) In short, it simply means that I love to visit graveyards. I especially enjoy photographing the statuary, or “cemetery sentinels” as I call them…the carved granite, stone, clay, and marble figures adorning a grave.

My wife, Kerri, and I have been traveling across the United States for the past year and a half. We are enjoying this once in a lifetime opportunity to see all the wondrous landscapes that each state has to offer, as well as meeting so many incredible people along the way. But not everyone we meet is alive.

For years, the two of us have shared a passion ( or should we call it a compulsion ) to visit the many graveyards we encounter along the way. It’s kind of ironic that I am drawn to graveyards as I suffer from panic attacks that center on a fixation with death and dying. When I find myself dwelling on the finite amount of time each of us have to walk this earth, my heart starts to race, my breathing becomes labored, I sweat profusely. In short, I feel as though I am dying…in that moment. Yet strangely, I have never experienced a panic attack in a cemetery. I’m sure my psychiatrist could explain why this is, but until now, I’ve never shared this with anyone. You are the first.

When I walk through a graveyard, I feel intensely peaceful. I know it sounds crazy, but I feel, “at home.”  I think of all the lives represented by the thousands of tombstones and crypts I have visited. They each present to me a continuity, as it were; a beautiful thread that unites the living and the dead, the past and the present…and inevitably, my future. I think of all the people buried beneath my feet. I imagine their lives, their hopes and dreams, and their final hours. I am not a spiritual person, but I even find myself wondering, where are they now?

My connectedness to the dead is most intensely felt in the variety of statues standing guard over the graves. They are almost always gothic or surreal, but inevitably beautiful. Well, some are decidedly gauche, but for the most part, they turn a cemetery into something bigger than life and, more importantly, bigger than death.

The funny thing is, when I die, my wife and I have agreed on a natural burial. I will be wrapped in a shroud and buried, without embalming and without a casket, in the land. I most certainly don’t want a headstone, and I don’t want a statue standing guard over me.

Cathedral of Shame

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Alois Ratzinger) becomes final Thursday. After meeting with the cardinals, he departs via helicopter to the papal retreat south of Rome. His abdication of the papacy, however, pales in comparison to his abdication of the truth in the issue of molestation within the church. His legacy will be forever tainted for his abject failure in addressing and attempting to right this terrible wrong.  Shame on him.

My poem below, “The Cathedral of Shame” underscores the lingering pain and shame of those who fell victim to this horrific sexual scourge within the Church.Try as they might, many have tried to return to the fold, but until these crimes are fully owned by the papacy, most of these efforts at reconciliation will become epic and painful fails. Perhaps the next Pope will possess the courage Ratzinger lacked, and will take ownership of the Vatican’s complicity in these sordid crimes against youth. Let’s hope so, because, until they do, the abuse of the body will only be compounded further with the abuse of denial.

The chances are slim, however, that any meaningful redress will arrive with the new pontiff. This is, after all, an institution that took hundreds of years to issue what ultimately amounted to a lukewarm apology for the Great Inquisition, and has yet to take any responsibility for the bloody atrocities of the Crusades. Let’s hope that the addition of the Age of Molestation doesn’t replace the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost with the aforementioned Trinity of Complicity.

Cathedral of Shame

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It was never my intent to return to this place
dark halls of betrayal, and lacking in grace
Lustful intentions, like geysers of steam
scald memories ‘neath mahogany beams

Yet I come on this day to recapture my soul
To quiet the screams now three decades old
Black flowing robes with collars of white
Incensed chambers to the left and the right

The bones of saints litter this brothel of sin
While confessions absolve the evils of men
The innocent novice here silently cries
Behind red velvet ropes of cardinal lies

Like lambs sacrificial to the altar are led
While the pure hearts of angels are quietly bled
I kneel before God, but my prayers silent fall
In the shadow of Christ in this candlelit hall

The peace that I seek here doesn’t exist
Where the holiest men refuse to resist
Hail Virgin Mary, full of sweet grace
Help me to rise and get out of this place

 

Is There Pain After Death: Reflections on the Sandy Hook Tragedy

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Pain that is not relieved in a person’s life continues after they are gone, held as a sordid memory by loved ones.  Just as we retain treasured thoughts of innocence, joy, wisdom and warmth, we preserve images of pain.  We draw a modicum of comfort from the Newtown coroner who reassured us the precious victims of the Sandy Hook massacre did not “suffer long”, but the idea that they suffered at all contaminates memory, preventing healing, healthy grieving and closure. This pain in turn flows across our communities, touching many who may never have met these children and their heroic protectors.

This does not have to be physic discomfort to be treated with pain medication.  The horror of the Sandy Hook shootings, the fear, the fight for survival, the wounds and bleeding, and eventually death, cast intense images that will last more than one lifetime.  Uncontrolled anxiety or fear may contaminate the surviving families, and the community, and corrupt its fiber, as can loss of spiritual path, loneliness, or guilt.  Failure to come to terms with the enormity of this senseless event results in a loss of opportunity, a psychic wound that may never heal.

The death of these children, and the staff of Sandy Hook Elementary, will transform families for generations.  I remember the 1989 story of a young man who was shot and killed in a random drive-by in the city of Oakland, CA.  The victim had no relation to his attackers.  No reason could be given by the authorities as to why this random act of violence brought this young man’s life to such a tragic close. But it resulted in his wife becoming chronically depressed and isolated from her family.   She committed suicide, leaving their son a life as an alcoholic and drug addict.  The ripples from that one event spread out and, through the network of that family, caused pain for many more.

When we think of Newtown, we cannot help but focus on those immediate moments for the victims and their family, as well we should.  The opportunity to live one’s life to its fullest, and to its natural end should not be denied, and must be the first goal in treating the survivors.  However, we cannot overstate the need and potential to protect and even nourish future generations by treating pain of all types in the Sandy Hook families sharing that passage and in the community of Newton.

Yes, unfortunately, there is pain after death, and I suspect it is the cause of much waste, anger and tragedy in our society. We must strive to prevent that suffering.  Good things are possible, loved ones can be together, memories shared, and solid foundations laid. Survivors, families, doctors and caregivers must protect and treasure even this difficult time of a person’s life, because as one life ends, others are beginning.

Echoes Across Time

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Love never dies…it echoes across time.

It is like a circle revolving with no beginning, no end. The pains of love diminishing as it journeys to the far side of the circle is real and deep…but remember the joy before the pain and listen for the echo.

Love has no dimension, yet it clearly defines all that it touches. It fills you up and leaves you empty all at the same time. Memories are the images carved as love passes along  our side of the circle; life’s subtle reminder to hold on and listen as love echoes across time.

Cast your ear to yesterday’s wind, if you must; do not be too surprised when the sounds you seek reach back to you from tomorrow. Echoes bounce in time and space, for that is their nature – but they must return, for that is their truth.

The circle cannot be denied.

Love cannot die…it echoes across time.

 

Pain vs. Suffering: A Necessary Distinction for Writers

Every writer, at some point or another, writes about pain and suffering. The truth is, due to the universal human experience of both, these are topics that deeply touch the reader and as such are richly relatable, thus making for compelling writing. The problem arises, however, when the writer fails to understand the fundamental difference between the two. In not understanding that these are two unique and very individual experiences, we often speak of one when we clearly intend to address the other.

To that end, please allow me to attempt to make that distinction now, as clearly as I am able. I hope in doing so that you will be able to more sharply hone both the intent, and the alliterations, you might be striving for in your next piece.

Pain, while it serves as a somatic sensation of acute discomfort to warn us that something is wrong and threatening to our health or survival, is a feeling people try to avoid. As well they should. We should strive to avoid hurt, thus avoiding pain, at all costs. Why would we embrace something that makes us miserable? It can, and does, have an emotional component, but only as a byproduct of the actual physical pain. When we write about pain, we should be speaking to the physical experience, and for the most part, it should be in noun form (with the exception of when we or others are the root cause of that physical discomfort, in which case it would be presented as an adjective.)

Suffering, on the other hand, speaks more to the mental experience of pain or affliction. It is a cerebral process that, when experienced, may feel “painful”, but is in reality growth producing. When we write about suffering, our focus should primarily be on the psychological or spiritual lessons associated with a painful event. It should, in healthy terms, present itself as a necessary evil to be embraced, as in acceptance comes growth. In feeling, misery, or state of mind, it is presented as a noun. Experientially, or as a state of being, it serves as an adjective. In making this distinction, the writer lends to the reader the correct emotional attachment and understanding to what is being discussed.

Practice writing a couple of verses where you clearly make the distinction between the two and see if you don’t agree.

Here is a short story that I heard year’s ago that I feel makes the distinction between pain and suffering very clear:.

“A young boy was caught in a home fire and burned very badly. His mother was lost in the fire, and his father, at the time, was stationed in the military in Iraq. As soon as the father learned of the tragedy, he was rushed home to be with his son. He sat beside his son for day after day, for weeks, as the child went through extensive and painful reconstructive surgery to repair his damaged skin. The child was experiencing both pain and suffering: pain from the burns and the bouts of surgery; suffering from the loss of his mother. The father, too, although not in physical pain, was also deeply suffering watching his child in so much pain. The child wanted the pain to go away, but he embraced his suffering because it made him feel connected to the mother he lost. This suffering, though painful, caused him to grow and to heal more quickly. Unfortunately, the father could not make the distinction. He felt he was in too much pain, and when he was not by his son’s side, he would go home and drink to ease the discomfort. In essence, in confusing the two, he was pushing his suffering away, and he never fully recovered from the events.”

Submitted by DLMcHale