considering the questions

I want to feel both the beauty and the pain of the age we are living in. I want to survive my life without becoming numb. I want to speak and comprehend words of wounding without having these words become the landscape where I dwell. I want to possess a light touch that can elevate darkness to the realm of stars.

- Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds

When Women Were Birds has been one of the most inspiring and influential pieces I've read this year. The first time I read this paragraph toward the end of the book, I sat at my desk with tears streaming down my face because thisTHIS is what I want for my words - a light touch that can elevate darkness to the realm of stars. 

In this book, Williams works through the mystery of her mother gifting her with blank journals when she died. Written in essay form, she mixes memoir, narrative, and poetry as she figures out what the blank pages mean, what her mother was trying to say, and how a writer can find her voice. The chapters are sometimes short and rarely linear. This works with Williams' purpose of untying the knots of self-doubt and personal trauma. 

What works with this passage is the way she's proclaiming herself with clarity and strength. Earlier in the book, she asks what is the sound of a woman covering her mouth with her eyes wide open. Here, she pushes the hand away and opens her mouth. She speaks against society's reliance on numbing agents and shows willingness to write the hard thing without dwelling there. And then, as she always does, she dusts the sentences with a touch of poetry - creating a nuance in her writing that is specifically hers. 

Typically, writers tend to be introspective. We take in a lot and sometimes, forget to push it out through words. The questions, the tensions, the epiphanies - they all seem to fall into a hidden reservoir and if we aren't careful, become lost to our psyche. There's power in working out the questions in our writing. If done correctly and with care, we may even brush up against our own voice and poetry.

Practice: Consider the questions, tensions and epiphanies you've experienced lately. Work your way through one of these in words. Take time over the next few days and continue writing, chipping away at some of the thoughts and perceptions you've considered in the past. Write until you know something different or brush up against what you know to be your voice. Approach the words of wounding without dwelling in those spaces and see what happens. Break it down, polish the words, and push it out - make it known.


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Posted on May 21, 2013 and filed under words that work.