Thursday, April 25, 2019

Contradictions


Sight isn't a blessing unless you've lost it. Or unless you've forgotten how to see. Or unless you're seeing anew. Do you wake up each day and thank your body for its ability to see? 

When we say, "I once was blind, but now I see," we need the first condition to be true for the second to be miraculous. We need the darkness in order to welcome the light. And that linking word, "but," is so dreadfully important, yet we never notice it. Essential, but unremarkable. 



 Photo Nora Pace 2019

It's my belief in both creative nonfiction and in poetry that the most interesting things to explore are often found in contradictions and juxtapositions. This is where poems bloom and often where essays start. Why is it that life can be one way and also another? How can I feel ice in my fingers and toes but simultaneously know a warming in my heart? How can I believe both things to be true? 

I've been thinking a lot about faith these days, for a few reasons. I just sang several masses for Holy Week and Easter at a Catholic Church, which brought up memories and emotions about my childhood in the Church and my choice to leave it. Easter is also a season when I think about my mother, who died shortly before that holiday many years ago. And right now in my letters with a mentor, we have a running dialogue about prayer. Clearly, I have a complicated relationship with faith and religion, and that might be enough to write about for years! 

When I think about belief, I think in opposites. I don't find the opposite of religious faith to be distrust or emptiness, but rather, a turning inward. In some ways, my loss of traditional faith allowed me to find other things to believe in. This is possibly the antithesis of the blind man who is healed, who finds a new fact of his existence -- "now I see!"-- to be cause to believe in invisible power. I found the intuitive way that I saw the world to be contradictory to the existence of that same power. 

But on the other hand, the blind man believes he was blind, and it is only when that belief is shaken (by suddenly seeing), that he finds a new faith. When my faith was shaken (in part by the death of my mom), I had to look for new things to believe in: love, my own strength, truthfulness in emotion, grief, and the power of being in the present world. It was only because I knew that I once could not see these things that the new sight of them was so miraculous. 

Some of these thoughts might make it into my current essay project, which is about promises, my mother, belief, and growing up. I'm interested in the ways that one thing replaces another -- that whole thing about how when a door closes, a window opens. I'm also aware that not all of these contradictions can be resolved, and that it's okay to leave questions unanswered in my writing.  



With the beauty and difficulty of contradictions in mind, here are a couple of writing ideas for you to try. 

1. Make two lists: one of things you love, and one of things you hate. Line them up next to each other. Do you notice any commonalities or resonances across the lists? Do you love one thing because you hate its opposite? Write about what you find. 

2. Play a sentence structure game by doing "not this, but that." I find this is a great way to start a poem. Here's me trying it: 

not the window, but the breeze
not the late nights, but the way sleep settles more heavily after midnight 


not the ocean, but the tide 
not the cracks, but the edges 

not the neighborhood, but the home 
not the teaching of children in front of me, but the learning of the child within. 



I hope you find ways to explore the tough contradictions in your life and in your writing. Give yourself permission this month to be unsure, to notice things changing, and to ask questions. 

Thanks for reading! My posts appear here on the fourth Thursday of each month.