I read a quote this week on a *blog, comparing the artistic methods of two brilliant composers, Mozart and Beethoven. Beethoven, it read, wore his emotions, so to speak, in his music. When he was angry, the music betrayed this. Mozart, on the other hand, though enduring a life full of pain, escaped into music and created beauty that transcended his circumstances. In other words, no one could have known, judging by his music, that he was in pain.
I've got to be honest, this quote touched upon a nerve. More so, the implication. It's highly likely I'm being overly sensitive, maybe even defensive, because it's not that I don't love and admire art (and lives) that rise above suffering in expression of beauty. On the contrary, I find this inspiring. It's that I know I'm more like a Beethoven. I escape into my writing, not to escape pain, but to work through it and embrace the messiness of the unfolding story. Sensitive or not, the quote made me feel that my way of artistic expression is less than beautiful or transcendent.
I don't know why I care.
Oh, but I do. I care, because I write raw. When my life is full of grief, I either work it out in my writing or remain silent. I hunger as a writer of redemptive stories to thread hope in the raw, to piece together a trail of truth and beauty in the unfinished middle of messiness. And I don't know how well I live up to that. Some days, the writing is too dark to see the thread. Other days, the thread glows golden. I am still figuring this out, and that, I fear, is the dilemma as a writer: I always risk being a little off.
And I care, because having walked through the grief of losing one of the closest people in my life, I heard this message all too often, in subtle ways. The ways our culture praises people who are "strong" in tragedy and loss, who don't seem to skip a beat in life because they keep pressing on, scarcely slowing down to let the grief sink in. The ways our churches can gloss over pain with sermons and smiles and hands lifted high in worship, elevating the stories of those who "overcome" and testify the happy ending without ever sharing the dark shadow of suffering. The message shot through to my heart then and it continues to touch a nerve now: Don't let people know what's really going on inside.
The problem is, I lived like that for twenty-seven years and I'm still picking up the pieces of the dam that finally exploded when I couldn't hold it in any longer. Folks, we're not dams. That's sure as hell not the kind of writer I want to be. But that doesn't make me any less appreciative of Mozart.
It's not really about one or the other, though, right? Transcending or channeling pain. Each is a different stroke of the brush, and in a world this large, we have room for both. We need both Mozarts and Beethovens, in all manners of art, in all manners of living out these stories that we inhabit. And perhaps we will even be both, in different seasons of life.
There's a balance here, somewhere, I know. Except I doubt it plays out on a scale capable of ever holding a perfect balance. Why would I even want to? I can't recall a single word from Christ that implies, "Blessed are the balanced..." I tilt to the side, one or the other, forward or back, and need the gentle adjustments of the Spirit. It is accountability, and it is grace; for surely, I do not walk the upright path always in my writing. I lean.
And I lean into this itching underneath my skin, the real issue at hand: Am I ok? Is this level of raw really ok, or even helpful, to any other soul on this journey through the messy middle? Or is it, as another **writer described recently, a case of "oozing unhealed rawness." Because, Lord knows, these wounds do ooze from time to time, here in this space where I strip naked my soul. But sometimes, the healing comes in the act of creation that writing is. This choice of cleaning out the wound before writing or writing the still-being-healed places so that others may know the full picture as it's unfolding, and not just the story looking back from a safe distance - I'm miles from figuring it out.
So, in this place, if you hear in my voice the rise and fall of grief and joy, hope and despair, doubt and faith, smooth and jagged edge, and it speaks to your soul, you're in good company. If all is carried on the notes of grace, turns out there can be beauty here, too.
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* My intent is not to argue this quote, but use it as a way of exploring another way of understanding art. I appreciate the point the author of this post made through the example in the quote.
** This is not to assume this writer intended her words as I took them; only, that they caused me to reflect on the level of rawness present in my writing and what is actually beneficial.