DANCING WITH DARKNESS
A regular part of my morning routine is to listen to a song called ‘I Arise Facing East,’ by the group, Libana. As I listen, I stretch, look for the sun, and repeat the words:
“I arise facing east. I am asking toward the light. I am asking that the day shall be beautiful with light. I am asking for the courage to move forward through the shadow. I am asking toward the light. I am asking toward the light.”
This song sets my barometer for the day, and reminds me of what I actually do as a writer. I ask toward the light, because part of my job is to offer light, through characters who grow and learn, through humor, through love in many different forms. That’s the gift we give ourselves, and our readers, who look to us to broaden their visual field, open their emotions, show them their own world in a different light.
In doing so, we also have to take them into darkness, which means we must move forward through our own shadows.
I’ll admit, this isn’t always fun. I resisted it quite a few times when I was writing The Green Memory of Fear, which has some profoundly deep shadows as well as some blinding light. I felt my own resistance to enter the emotions of the characters, some of whom had been badly abused. And I questioned myself, asked whether I was doing it right, whether maybe I should just skim over certain parts. But friends of mine who are abuse survivors told me to go deep and tell all. The writer’s job, they said, is to throw light in the dark places. First, of course, you have to go there yourself.
When I’m teaching writing, my students are often reluctant to take that journey as well. They’re fearful about exposing themselves, fearful of offending readers, of going beyond what the market will accept. I can tell them why they’re wrong, but as any writer knows, telling isn’t as effective as showing, so I also have them dance blindfolded.
That’s right. I put on music, they put on blindfolds, and they dance, encased in their own personal darkness. Some are tentative. Some are bold. Some feel an unexpected joy and freedom. Some feel their own fears of darkness. All of them emerge with a new understanding of their strengths and limits, which they can apply to their own writing practice.
Dancing blindfold is a small version of the journey we’re often asked to take as writers. My own experience is that if you can find ways to get comfortable with your own discomfort, your reward is immense. You emerge into light with your craft sharpened, your own heart opened in new ways, both your confidence and your compassion greatly increased.
Then again, so much of life is a dancing in darkness as we keep asking toward the light. There should be no surprise that much of writing is exactly the same.
Barbara Chepaitis is author of eight published novels and two nonfiction books. Her most recent novel is The Green Memory of Fear, fifth book in the ‘fear’ series featuring Jaguar Addams. She is also director of the fiction writing program at Western College of Colorado’s Master’s program in creative writing.
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