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Be your Muse: Trauma as a Muse in Writing

 Being a writer involves accepting that you are in for a haunting and lonely journey while you attempt to get your thoughts typed across pages. With this comes hours of painful silence and fistfuls of hair while trying to figure out how to translate ideas into words. Yet sometimes, we fail to see the solution right before us. We have ourselves and the trauma we’ve lived through, but also, we have an unending limit to inspiration from the writers before and next to us.

 When writers write through the gaze of themselves as the Muse, they seem to write from memory, and use this as a way to both, remember and heal. The takeaway here is that trauma is a muse, be it physical, mental, or emotional; trauma remains at the center for many writers. I also find this surprising because, as writers, when we’re told to write a narrative of personal experience, it is very seldom the stuff of happy recollections, but instead descriptions of pain, recollections of miscarriages, suicide, abuse, car accidents, illness, and so on. Perhaps giving these experiences an immortal voice, rooted in ink and paper, helps writers take their experiences and heal from them.

 A perfect example of this can be found in William Carlos Williams’ essay, The Practice. Williams writes that as a doctor, the daily presence of patients and “coming to grips with the intimate conditions of their lives, when they were being born, when they were dying, watching them die, watching them get well when they were ill, has always absorbed [him]” (196) this highlights that a great source of inspiration for Williams was his interactions and experiences with these patients, which he was then able to write about (1951). Later in the essay, Williams speaks of the trauma that he is exposed to when he states, “The girl who comes to me breathlessly, staggering into my office, in her underwear a still breathing infant, asking me to lock her mother out of the room, the man whose mind is gone – all of them finally say the same thing” (201). It is powerful that Williams uses this now-shared trauma in his writing. However, that simply goes back to trauma being a muse, even if it is through another’s experience.

What about the notion of writing from memory? Both as a means to preserve the memory, but sometimes it is also to tell a story from your past. Here, I’ve always wondered what the significant difference is between experience and memory. In my writing, I have found that when it comes to experience, I’ll write from that perspective; the being experiencing the experience. Yet, when it comes to memory, I have found that my speaker varies; therefore, it could be from a first-person point of view, as that person recalling the memory. Or it could be from a third-person perspective. Again, this would reflect the writer and how they perceive trauma. Looking at Williams’ essay, I would assume that he could do both, write from a person experiencing the trauma or a person witnessing the trauma. Both of which are equally intriguing and something worthy of exploring.

In Lidia Yuknavitch’s Daguerreotype of a Girl (2008), we see that she has given her character the ability to “transform unbearable pain into artistic production – exactly like how women take what turns out to be a life and live with it” (5). From her writing, it becomes clear that trauma is present in her character’s narrative – there are both elements of writing from experience and memory. When writers walk the line between experience and memory, the writing effectively allows the reader to glimpse the weight of her past. In doing so, the report becomes layered and complex, which is a necessary element for the writing to evoke something in the reader.

Where trauma becomes the muse, writing becomes the salve. Has there ever been a more critical time to use paper to remember experiences and memories, immortalizing them and, thus, healing them? In her essay, Narrative of Struggle, bell hooks states that “people are more than their pain” (hooks, 1991). Here, we see that the idea of trauma haunts people and their writing, yet Hooks’ statement about people being more than their pain is inspiring to a writer. If we see the act of writing as a healing process, it will reinforce Hooks’ statement referring to the importance of writing. For me, there are instances where the traumatic events have been beyond my control. Therefore, the act of writing allows me to take control over this, to understand it, work through it and heal. With the writing process, I think you can show this in writing, and if you’re lucky, the reader will be able to feel the emotions that the writer is/has gone through. I also believe that there is a freedom that comes with writing; yet to be free, we have to choose to survive the adversity that has been thrown at us; as writers, we do this by daring to create pieces where the bitter and the sweet elements of life come into being. Writers don’t seem to be able to measure their capacity to endure pain but rather to celebrate moving beyond this pain. The writing, therefore, represents this; it tells a story, reveals deep and dark secrets, and exposes the writer’s soul for the audience to get a glimpse of this trauma and whether the wound has healed yet.

 As a writer who speaks of past trauma, one of my goals in the writing process is to ensure that the reader feels some part of the emotion that I try to put into my writing. Amina Cain’s essay on Slowness speaks of wanting the fiction to talk to her (2015). She says how in her writing, she starts from “an open place and trust that the elements that need to be in the story will find their way” (31), and she further speaks about how she does not think about whether her writing is accessible to people or not.

Finally, Frederico Garcia Lorca’s essay on the Theory and function of the Duende gives a mysterious element to the art of writing, with the “Duende” being the “spirit of the earth.” The idea of this “Duende,” which I understand as a kind of mysterious power of the art that deeply moves a person/the audience, is unexplainable, yet it draws the person in. For a writer, this is powerful, as it allows the writing to speak for itself. Lorca states that “those dark sounds are the mystery, the roots that cling to the mire that we all know, that we all ignore, but from which comes to the very substance of art” (1). Here, I question where this ‘force’ comes from and how it comes into being, both to an artist and in their work. My thoughts here wander to the darker aspects of writing and living. Later in his essay, Lorca states, “We only know it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, rejects all the sweet geometry we understand, that it shatters styles …” I think that this statement only makes the idea of the ‘Duende’ more mystical. The desire to find and adapt it to one’s writing only grows. I also quite like the picture of inspiration coming from something unknown; it gives the writer a kind of mysterious feel. Because it is from something strange, I think there would be more to explore in writing rather than having a preconceived idea of where the piece is going. It also highlights a darker side to everything, yin, and yang, if you will.

I believe that as writers, the idea of having multiple worlds at our fingertips gives off a freedom that will never have bounds. However, I also think that there is a greater freedom that comes with writing about trauma. This freedom is liberating and intoxicating by the wounds it heals. It allows the writer to open these wounds to the deepest of their abilities and to slowly write away the pain and heal as the words find themselves rooted in black ink. Here, a writer reveals herself to the pages in front of her; she lets the pain from experiences and memories materialize into these pages. And as a result, the writer offers herself and her trauma to the reader with one expectation; for the reader to try and feel as much of the trauma as they can. As much as books should allow the reader to escape reality, sometimes books should also enable the reader to visit reality, to understand that trauma is accurate, and it is consuming, and as writers, sometimes our only way of healing and coming to terms with our grief, is to immortalize it.


So, if your trauma was your muse, what would You write about?

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