‘her wounds came from the same source as her power’
What does it mean to write into one’s wounds? Adrienne Rich and Cheryl Strayed both illuminate this perspective as a source of power in poetic expression. As a creative woman, I’ve come to see that it means not rejecting pain, but making room for it in one’s own daily life and reality. It means treating the hurt as a friend, teacher, comrade, fellow traveller, an intimate companion, a wrestling partner. It means giving tender expression to the pain of being flawed, of being human. It means being vulnerable and open to life, even when agony may result. It means facing mortality.
When I read these words I can’t help but think about my own deep wounds and how I have tried to negate them, cover over them or reject those aspects of self. Being open to pain, inviting it in for a cup of tea, does not come naturally to me! When I start to touch my own weakness with the written word an uneasy throbbing begins. First in the belly and then in my hands, alive with the energy of the wounded-ness. The injury, the failing, has twisted itself around my psyche and is silently alive inside me like a being, like a creature without a face but with one crooked eye open. I don’t think it drinks tea.
I remember the setting apart that the wound caused. For some, not all, but mostly for me. I always felt different, an outsider. I allowed that difference to drive me away from others and became occupied by a monstrous self-loathing. It became so much of who I was. It haunted me, casting a grim light over all of the rest of my life. I couldn’t be who I wanted to be because of the imperfection. I couldn’t see anything else though. Any talent was overshadowed, and my personality ripened only in relation to the wound, creating a symbiosis that helped facilitate years of drug addiction, eating disorders and other mental health conditions.
Now, outwardly, the wound has been mostly healed from surgery four years ago after meeting a wonderful specialist, with advanced technology. It’s hard to believe. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see it there anymore, but this experience also feels like a lie. The truth is that inwardly, the imperfection, the creature with a crossed eye is living and breathing still. I wear sunglasses a lot.
When Adrienne Rich talks about writing into, or out of the wounds, I think what she is getting at is the experience of paradox. Writing from the wounds of life (bringing forth creativity from a place of trauma or weakness) means not being comfortable with a single viewpoint. It means multiplying meanings and shifting boundaries and letting go of simplistic, one-dimensional narratives. For me this is captured in the spiritual idea of strength emerging from weakness.
When I came to understand it better, I realised my own vulnerability gave me an ability to relate, to be present with other wounds, with others that were wounded. Not all others, all the time, but some, especially women. I had a share in their pain. I also came to value the different ways of seeing that I had developed from feeling as an outsider most of the time. My character, or creative weirdness, while forged as a response to deep pain, could now also be accessed as strength, from an inner landscape of wild beauty, which included that creature with one crooked eye open. I came to see that deep ambiguity at the edges of life is a painful, and thrilling, place to be. In evoking my flawed humanity, I came to be free.