Some years back I worked as a ghostwriter on a memoir written by a young woman with eating disorders. She had kept diaries throughout her life, and used a combination of writing – poetry in particular – and drawing to express her pain. She credits this creative expression as the thing that pulled her back from the brink of death.
I have diaries from when I was very young. They were not very creative at all! They were a record of the day-to-day happenings in my life, but nothing about feelings, pain or passion. I don’t think I even recorded emotional events; I just wrote basic details about what happened … stuff like ‘Today we went to the beach. Kelly came too.’ I wonder now if that’s just the way kids are, or whether it wasn’t safe to express myself emotionally – even to myself.
It was only when I left home that I started to use writing as a tool to keep me sane in the same way the young woman with anorexia had. To start with though, the writing was stunted. A sentence or two of frustration here and there. I didn’t know how to let it out.
Later, the floodgates opened, but not until well into my 30s. Why did they open? Well that’s a long story… but I will use a beautiful, sad song to explain just a little.
Story as metaphor
‘The Queen and the Soldier’ is a song by Suzanne Vega that I first heard many years ago. Every time I heard it, I would cry. I still do. Even just thinking about the lyrics tears me up!
The story goes like this… the Queen is young and lives in a castle, hidden behind her walls. Safe, but alone and isolated – and unquestioning. The soldier and his army fight for the queen. Neither of them even know why. It’s just always been this way. He comes to her, and tells her he can’t do it anymore, he wants a different life, to love a young woman, not to fight anymore. He unsettles her, and she is filled with longing and yearning for a different life too. But in the end, she can’t do it. She is too scared. She prefers to live in isolation rather than face what is needed to change.
This song has been studied in university poetry courses since it was written in 1983, and it is still the subject of endless interpretation on Google forums. It touches something very deep in the human psyche, I believe. Suzanne Vega herself has said it is about power. I look at it symbolically.
Marrying the heart and the head
To me this song is about the heart and the head, and marrying the two. Understanding that emotions and the intellect need to be balanced within a person, that one is not better than the other. It’s about leaving behind the need to control things with the mind, to make sense of everything, to understand – ie, control being about exerting power. It’s about lowering one’s guard, learning to express oneself from the heart, to be creative, to let your passion guide you – something that can only happen really when the heart and head work together, and when the mind gives up needing to control and understand.
It still kills me, the last verse of that song:
Out in the distance her order was heard
And the soldier was killed, still waiting for her word
And while the queen went on strangling in the solitude she preferred
The battle continued on
The Queen could not give up her love of power. She couldn’t allow herself to choose a different life.
A metaphor for my life…
I was born into a world and family that favoured the head… intellect over creativity. I can remember in my 20s saying to a boyfriend who was studying architecture, and who was very bohemian and creative (my personal soldier?!), that all I wanted to do was be more creative. He laughed, and told me creativity was in the way you approached everything… the way you dress, the food you cook, how you decorate your house. Obvious, I guess… but to me at that time, creativity was about building something, making something, painting something, writing something… something that you could objectify; another form of achievement really. I hadn’t thought about it as just the way you express yourself, as just the way you ARE in the world.
Some learning to do…!
I chose to go back to college and study creative writing. I can recall writing an end-of-year essay about why I wanted to write … I wrote that I wouldn’t write until I knew what to write about. What I meant was that I didn’t want to make stuff up off the top of my head; I felt that a lot of people did that in my creative writing class. It felt empty and pointless. What I was looking for was passion and heart to be the basis of my writing.
I know now that I was waiting for what I call the ‘energy frisson’ – the bubble of excitement when something draws you in. When the bliss message is delivered… I wrote about this in my post entitled ‘The power of sharing your story’, about how when I interview people and they start talking about their passion and where their inspiration comes from, I feel this energy suffusing them, and it starts to affect me in the same way. I start to get lit up too. It creates common ground between me and the person I’m interviewing – shared energy, shared passion.
I think it feeds something in me. They say you should surround yourself with the people you wish to be like. I think being around people who are buzzing with excitement, creativity and positive energy about what it is they do is helping to awaken more of that heart connection in me.
It’s an ongoing process of trusting my intuition, my dreams, the little voice inside that leads me in the direction of that bubbling energy frisson… the more I trust it, the more that separation of heart and mind is mended. Who knows where it will lead? Outside the castle walls, that’s for sure.