“Stop writing what is beautiful. Write what is true.” So said my wild and wise friend as we spoke in a long-overdue phone conversation. I was caught in a season of words that didn't feel rooted or real and I wanted to stop writing forever.
A sister writer, she felt safe. She would get it, and so I spilled my messy truth: I couldn't write; I hated it, in fact, and I wanted to delete all my blogs, burn my notebooks and never wrestle with language again.
When I speak of my life purpose I often say that it is to cultivate beauty. To move and be moved through something so sacred and soul-stirring that the body bears witness through a constellation of goosebumps, a deep exhale, or an unexpected salty tear; that the spirit is moved to keep her flames alive, desirous, free and dancing; and that the soul, the strong eternal soul, is reminded of her Home.
Yet so often I am lured by a different sort of beautiful which leaves me malnourished, hungry, depleted, and starved. I don't know when or how I lose my beauty-way and begin substituting an air-brushed kind of beautiful that smiles on paper with pearly white teeth, sparkly eyes, and perfect skin, but when I do it feels like I'm dropped off the side of a ship into the deep dark sea. In the depths I am disoriented. Way off track. I don't know which way is up or down. In this murky and terrifying space I need safe, so I write safe. Because it's soothing and meditative and uses syllables I love.
Or maybe I think it's expected of me. That I have some image to uphold, a “should” to follow.
The wildness of beauty
But real beauty is the ragged coastline which withstands centuries of pounding waves and angry storms. Real beauty is found in the folds of my skin that carries the weight of lament, etched with the expansion of all the worlds I hold. Real beauty is in the staccato of halting half-sentences: because life. Takes my words. Leaves me lonely. It's either too sacred or too grief-stricken. No language for it; just feelings. Just living it out. Breath by breath. Truthful wild beauty is found in the salty, wet, body-wracking sobs which speak a language of their own—as I weep in a dark theater over Interstellar for the first and second time, or when I reveal how lonely I am because the sacred communion I've found with kindreds across the land is missing in my city. Or when I ache wondering why some people just ... leave. Was it you? Was it me? Or when I admit how irritated I can get, which is definitely not very enlightened or loving. Or how normal I am. Or how I struggle with debt and weight and clutter, the trinity of grief.
“I want to enter my life. Be here now. But the how (and the howl) of this always begins in the dark.” —Into the Dark Night
Truth is uncomfortable. It feels like nervously-shuffling feet, shifting in your chair, a cleared throat, looking away—as if not staring directly at pain eases some of it. It's nicer and easier to write beautiful things, to inspire and bring a smile through an encouraging, happy paragraph or two. To hold the world at arm's length; to hold myself behind a protective veil and a walled garden. To cover up the messy parts which are more intimate than the beautiful ones.
“To answer The Call is to change your name, releasing the syllables and sounds of your former self to adopt your rightful title. You are no longer Compliance, Prudence, Chastity. You stop trying to write beautifully, and begin writing what is true. Your identity is finally stripped down to only what is real for you—your new name, your oldest name that is—Wildish, Untamed, Powerful, and your handwriting is scrawling, fast and recognizable only to those who write the same way. The Call demands this of you. The Call is a growing pain that begins at the center and radiates outward to singe and burn away everything it touches that cannot last. This is the very nature of change and metamorphosis. For the shedding of skin into a new being is intrinsically painful. I have stopped trying to avoid pain. But pain is only part of the story. What remains is strong, resilient, and worthy. Everything else is a skin fit for then, and we can find the courage to let it go in favor of now. Along the way, you will meet up with sisters who have answered their own calls. After years of trudging alone to the single note of our own call, we begin to sense first, then to see their dirt-smudged, tear-streaked faces. Their scars look comfortingly similar to our own. We are a ragtag tribe of outcasts, moon howling, spiritual homesteaders. The notes of our own call begin to merge and blend, and we become a symphony of stragglers, circling in sacred ritual—we are never truly alone. Our wounds are treasure maps tracing our stories back to the moment we said no, enough, no more, now, this time, my time. They bind us, these wounds, these calls, one to another on this dark wooded path.” —Sarah La Rosa
I have to believe that somewhere within the ugly cry, the ugly truth, the ugly mundane of everything lies magic that reveals itself when it's needed most. Perhaps this is the way of redemption. Perhaps it is a season. Perhaps this is the decay of fallen leaves and branches giving way to the dark, wet earth. Perhaps this is the alchemy of death—the mysterious way empty ground becomes a place seeds can thrust their tender roots into. And this requires a halting sort of faith that feels uncomfortably blind, at least for a conventional sort of sight. But one thing I do know: there are many ways to see.