By D. Razor Babb
I was hidden in a secluded corner of the gym, enjoying the momentary oasis of solitude detached from the clamor of a crowded yard of around 800. Across the grand expanse of the, for now, unused basketball court was a person I’ve known for some time, a writer, making his way toward me. The first time we met he asked if I would mind taking a look at some pages he had written. When I returned them I told him, “If you’re not spending all your time writing you are wasting your time.” Some people have it like that, an innate ability for storytelling, weaving words together in a tapestry that is soothing to the eye and tickles the ear with pleasing melodies. He took the suggestion to heart and over the past two years has knocked out two novel-length manuscripts. Over that same expanse of time, he has also had his difficulties.
It seems sometimes that the most brilliant, gifted individuals—those with the ability to cross over into the higher realms of unobstructed creative clarity—can appear different, eccentric, and are often misunderstood. Maybe they’re so overflowing with genius that “normal” people can’t fathom such luster, and therefore see them as rapscallions, nonconformists, or difficult. The savage beast of genius can be resistant to control or attempts at constraint, especially in this place of control by fear and intimidation. Maybe the more in touch with genius the less one is tied to the earthly bonds of conformity that hold them captive to cultural norms and society feels the need to punish them for their special talent … a debt owed for the gift of creative insight.
My friend is a prime example of this great obscene social dynamic. In this dark place, with its insipid need to force conformity or be beaten down into a Stepford Wives’ stupor, he frequently has difficulty navigating. It is a world separated from the world, a place where mediocrity is bartered for favor from those who enforce the rules somebody else has written, a place where boot-lickers outnumber the brave and timidity trumps temerity.
As he approached his face was contorted with agitation, his shoulders slumped with a burdening load of frustration, and his voice echoed from the cavernous gym walls in solemn resignation, “Man, I am so tired of this ….” What followed was a tirade of vitriol describing an interaction with “the powers that be” that had him pounding his fist on the table, pacing like a trapped panther, dripping sweat in antagonizing streams of angst over sharp crevices of anger that lined his cheeks. “It don’t make sense!” He plead, more than declared. He described the rules he had been accused of infracting and the penalties dispensed for violations more imagined than real, conjured out of vagary too ridiculous to reason. “I just had it. I don’t even know if it’s worth it anymore, ” he said.
It was a comment veined with intention, or at least the consideration of intent of the darkest nature. The life sentences we face, the brutality we have seen and have been a part of, the hopelessness and despair all in painful exhibition before me. It’s not something we talk about much, or think about, not in the daylight hours. Those itinerant thoughts are for the twilight and beyond, and creep into the fissures of the brain without warning, lurking in the darkest corners where memories are buried in unmarked graves of shame and regret. They only rarely appear, when our guard is down, or our dander is up.
In those moments, wise reason can be elusive. Sometimes just being able to talk with someone can help, if you can find someone you trust. In the long, suffering silence that sat before us like a chasm of sorrow, my well of wisdom had run dry. I had nothing to offer. But, from some unknown place of grace, words fell from the rafters and broke through the hazy gloom of concern and confusion, heard more than spoken, “Why don’t you write about it?”
The next morning, my friend was re-energized, inspired, hungry to create. He had knocked out 8 pages during the night and unleashed the beast of creativity, devouring the fetid waste of repression and doom. He had accepted his punishment for ills not done, embraced the misfortune, and faced the winds of adversity with the single greatest power he possessed, imagination. In doing so he had ascended to the greater heights where literary wonders await locked away, yearning to be uncaged.
As Faulkner wrote, “Problems of the human heart in conflict with itself alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and sweat.” In this way we do not seek to escape our suffering, but to experience it, and examine it… reflecting rather than deflecting a life worth living. It is an experience of freedom elusive and untamed, and when discovered, can change a life. Sometimes, writing not only changes a life, but saves it.