Getting Your Hands Dirty

Dear Reader:

Let me begin by apologizing for taking so long to write to you as it has been months since I last sat down to do this. I could spout off a list of obligations, things I’ve been preoccupied with but I suppose that would bore you. We are after all here to talk about deeper and hopefully more meaningful things.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “the writer situation.” Many of my friends (who happen to be writers) have been struggling with their writer selves as well, the parts of us that we must leave open, exposed and vulnerable. I think of an orange, the way you have to dig into it with your thumbs and fingertips to get to the meat, the edible part of the fruit. In this way, we writers must peel off that protective layer, that skin that covers what’s underneath. We must do this to expose ourselves because it is only when we are open that we can empathize with the world, our readers, each other, other humans. It is only then when we are raw that we can write what we feel we need to put out into the world.

But, sometimes being open and vulnerable in this way leads to getting dirty in the sense that dealing with the inevitable growing pains and heartaches can be quite messy. We are so used to creating characters or writing scenarios, calling it like we see it, that this conditioned honesty can often come back to bite us.

As writers we are trained to think about beginnings, middles, endings, but also moments of connection and disconnection, possibilities and plotlines. I’ll admit I can get lost in my imagination thinking about all of these things with any new person who enters into my life. More recently I met someone whom I’ll call A. While I haven’t known A long and our friendship is still in the beginning stages, I feel an odd closeness and familiarity with this person. After a phone conversation with A, I had to call one of my close writer friends. I had to tell her how silly I felt feeling so close and connected to someone I still barely knew. I asked her: Is it in our writer/artist nature to just invent these connections or make more ‘meaning’ out of something that isn’t really there? She, like many of our writer friends, could relate. Perhaps, we are all guilty of such things.

As humans we need and crave connections, connecting, to be seen, heard, acknowledged in our presence.  I think Emily Rapp says it quite well in her essay Dirty or Clean? published in The Rumpus the day after my most recent birthday. She wrote: “I want to live. I want to be, quite simply, accepted and desired for the sum total of who I am, and who I might become, and for the experiences that have contributed to both.” I wholeheartedly agree.

Recently, my dear Reader you commented on how appreciative you were of my writing, how vulnerable it was. Rather, how vulnerable I was. Oddly enough I hadn’t conceptualized it this way before, in that word vulnerable. I know I am the type of person who wears her heart on her sleeve. I say what I am feeling when I am feeling it and sometimes this scares (or intimidates) people. (Sometimes this honesty gets me in trouble, too) I know other writers and artists may relate when I say some people think we are just plain crazy because we ‘tell all’, share secrets, and leap into the oceans of our emotions to write hoping someone out there will feel less alone in the world reading those words. Sometimes I still do not understand why people just don’t say what they are really thinking, feeling. Why is it that we have become so afraid to open ourselves up to that raw exposure, especially when it comes to finding connections with other people?

From our previous letters dear Reader you know my experiences with loss and grieving have affected me quite strongly and those experiences often surface in my writing.  When people ask why I write about sad things I think, someone has to not be afraid to get their hands dirty in grief, loss, struggles, all the things society avoids talking about. Part of the artist’s call is to turn past traumas on their heads, upside down, inside out, then put it back down as something changed, transformed, so that everyone else can see something beautiful or hopeful in it. But in order for that beauty or hope to come about someone had to dive head first into the muck, ugliness, stark darkness of the wreck. That is what we writers do – we recast wounds in unending light. We make re-membering revolutionary.


Some memories gather dust and soil, become so heavily covered that you can no longer see them. Recently I unearthed a memory with my friend M, how after he passed away I listened to his voicemail over and over all the way up until his phone was shut off. Even then I thought about continuing to call when the number got reassigned. I thought maybe if I asked or begged the voice on the other line to say my name, coach them to say it with the drawled out “a” he used to give it then maybe I’d find some momentary comfort in the sound. I could have kept him alive that way. Instead the computer guy in our dorm figured out a way to save his voicemail recording and turned it into an MP3 that I saved in my iTunes library. I never told anyone that some nights I’d listen to it on repeat, never told anyone that I listened to that 30 second riff “Hey this is….” over and over until it became part of the background, a constant series of tones that soon lost meaning. Then I felt some sense of normalcy when his voice became part of the air, part of the sound in the room naturally echoing off the walls. Then I could finally fall asleep.

I remembered how much my presence hurt then. How guilty I felt to be living when my friend was not. I think of how so much can change in a minute, month, and now…6 years later I am most willing to take a gamble with my words now because of so many things I’ve left unsaid in the past. Even in terms of my writing I’ve changed so much. I used to write the raw emotion of it. I used to think that was perhaps the best writing and never believed my instructor’s when they spoke about the importance of psychic distance. Sure it made sense mentally and intellectually but emotionally it didn’t feel right. It is only now that it makes sense – the process of processing.

I won’t lie and say that sometimes living “the writer situation” as I’ve described it, isn’t easy. Sure I laugh, I love, I am happy, but I can be sad, overflow with tears, and obsess over fears I have. But when I process the way I process things in my writer mind I think – no matter how raw, open, and exposed I leave myself to the hurts or pains, I hope I never close myself off because when you close yourself off to the possibility of heartache, you lose the chances of happiness and connection too.

Dear Reader, I hope you remain unafraid of getting your hands dirty because heart is what drives and determines our fate. Ask yourself what kind of heart you have? Mine is a brave and passionate one. It is one I hope I am always brave enough to break whenever I need to let go, move on, or open myself up to possibilities.

May we all be brave enough to live passionately. Be brave enough to break our own hearts.




1 Comment

  1. Go through the good and the bad is the life. The difference is how long it will take to assimilate it and go on; and what you learn from it. We need to be brave to face every single day, doesn’t matter if it’s the happiest day in your life or the most awful. We need to face the experience and make a decision of how we want to be. Make that decision is so hard but it shows how strong, brave and blessed you are.
    You’re an amazing writer. God bless you.

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