Monday, April 14, 2014
The Art of Story as Truth
Last spring semester, I had the privilege of reading Thomas Hardy for the first time. His Egdon Heath, with its wild grasses and furze helped me to finally acclimate to my new home here in Ohio. Walking my dogs in my neighbor's horse pastures took on new meaning as I imagined myself walking in the untamable heath of Wessex. In this sense, literature aided me in finding and accepting my new truth.
This semester proved no different. In opening up the worlds within the pages of Truman Capote and Jonathan Safran Foer, I finally realized that the reason I had never acclimated to Ohio was that I was still head over heels in love with New York. Reading both Capote and Foer helped me to grieve, heal and ultimately let go of the big apple. Literature has this magical capacity. All art does. That's why occupational therapists study art therapy, because artists, in telling their own truth, appeal to the universal truths within us all. Art, like no other language can mold and even inform the direction we choose to take our lives in.
In June of 2012, I began writing what was to be the real start of my first novel. After ten years of false starts, this draft felt palpably different. After each morning spent writing, I would walk my dogs along the shores of Lake Erie. The beach was awash in seagull feathers and being sensitive to spiritual animism, I decided to chalk the feathers up to Seagull medicine. Seagull medicine is a lesson in aggressiveness. In accordance with this information, I decided the feathers were telling me that I needed to be more aggressive in pursuing my writing. This draft would be the one I would complete, all the way to publication. The story tells my truth regarding my journey toward my bi-polar diagnoses. My hope is that my journey will appeal to the universal truth of humanity: our need to find healing and resolution to life's problems. I didn't come across this life lesson in an accounting class. My hunger for the written word was awakened in the theatre, another haven of art.
While that was my very personal, spiritual outlook on all those white feathers I took home that summer, I later discovered that the reason for all the seagull feathers (and dead fish) strewn along the beach that summer was that there had been an oil spill on the Canadian side of Lake Erie. No American news stations covered this spill. They didn't have to. It was a Canadian problem, so it wasn't reported on by American news outlets. The only reason I found out about it was through a friend who posted me a link on it from a subversive (as opposed to mainstream) e-zine: In spite of the local loss of swimming privileges and the damage to our eco-system nothing, was written or televised regarding the spill. (I would hyper-link the article but I can't find it anywhere now which I think is rather telling.)
In 1995, Newt Gingrich famously went on a witch-hunt to defund the National Endowment of the Arts. He was shrewd regarding his objective. Why? Because writers like Thomas Hardy and D.H. Lawrence were vocal advocates for the environment in the face of the stripping of the earth's natural resources due to coal mining. And today, writers like Leslie Marmon Silko speak out through their art for Native American rights and the damage done by the government's atomic bomb tests in New Mexico. Artists tell the truth big money doesn't want us to hear. No wonder Newt Gingrich was scared.
The next time you hear "41 Shots" by Bruce Springsteen, think about the thousands of murder victims that die due to police brutality. The next time you listen to "Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell, think about global warming. Because artists tell the truth, even and especially when they make their audience uncomfortable.