For the first few days after the Paris attacks, I didn't want to write any more. At least not for the moment.
At the Center for Narrative and Conflict Resolution we often discuss how violence, while itself a speech act, often works to silence its victims and its observers. There is something about violence that seems, perhaps because it is an unspoken act, that seems to reach into ones mouth and steal words.
Emotions swirl. Primal emotions of revenge and ire bubble up from the gut to the throat easily. Somehow, they seem to get stuck right there. I feel them stuck somewhere in the inside of my cheeks. When I touch that spot where despair hits my conscious mind and responsible mouth, my eyes well up.
I feel heat, nausea, and water in my eyes. But there are no real "thoughts" in that experience. There is just raw wonder. Not inspired wonder, but the kind of wonder that pulls you look towards Hades and Dante's Inferno not toward heaven or the Divine Comedy.
Walk Inside That Pain
I want to close off. Wake up, watch the stars dissolve as the sunrises and fill up my bird-feeder and forget.
This week, however, I'm haunted by another poet as much as by the events that have taken place in Paris, St. Petersburg, Beirut, Baghdad and now Mali.
The poet, whose name I'll add when I find the reference, warned that we all have a door we will not walk through. He warns, however, if we never dare to enter, we will simply rearrange the furniture in the rooms that do not scare us.
The thought of rearranging furniture for a lifetime seems like some kind of hell or at least purgatory.
The French word for purgatory is similar to the English word, though fare more onomatopoeic. By this I mean the word sounds far more like the experience in French -- purgatoire
Writing Our Way Through the Purgatoire of Violence
Those who have read Anne Lamott's delicious book on writing may well remember her sentiment to the effect, "I either had to start writing or kill myself." When she said it, it sounded hilarious. That is her gift.
I'm wondering if writing, speaking even when the words seem to be tucked in the heart, under the liver and behind the eyes is worth the effort. It at least gets us around the purgatoire of rearranging furniture.
At our Town Hall Meeting on the recent events at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, Professor Rich Rubenstein encouraged participants to admit "areas of uncertainty."
That's a way of saying, you can talk, write or even just make a weird noise even if you have no solution. Your efforts at speaking are in and of themselves a response to violence.
Sarah Federman, PhD