In the Shadows
Last week was a hard week, friends. So difficult, in fact, that when my husband and I were able to (finally!) snag a couple of hours alone together Sunday night we spent a good portion of that time staring at each other in stunned silence. Who knew back-to-school would be so hard for our family? We’ve done this before–for many years, actually. But the unique combination of transitional grades, emotional and spiritual battles, and the raw fear of the unknown made for several days where we had to sink into survival mode. Tears, door-slamming, insomnia, nightmares, and regression… Oh, my!
Why do I share this with you? I don’t want your sympathy. I don’t need a casserole or even a shoulder to cry on. Life is just hard sometimes and we all know that. But I think there is one thing that eases our burdens in a way that nothing else can: community. We need fellowship, understanding, a place we can go to not only receive a hug but realize once again that we are not alone. “I love you” is a powerful sentence, but anyone who is hurting can tell you that there is unparalleled comfort in: “I understand. I hear you. I’ve been there, too. You’re not alone.”
When I started writing for publication, my books were often labeled as raw and messy and edgy. I don’t think I write “edgy” fiction (or, at least, I don’t intend to), but I do believe that one of the main reasons we create art in the first place is to wrestle with life’s most difficult questions. The ones that leave us broken and hurting, wondering if the world is indeed a beautiful place or if we’re just fooling ourselves. This is why I write “dark fiction.” It’s not filled with horror or gore, but my books unapologetically explore the shadows. I don’t claim to have the answers. More often than not, I’m struggling through the very things I’m writing, feeling like a failure and a cheat as I fumble and fall. But I can’t stop myself–I have to go there. I have to see if there’s hope in the places that seem beyond redemption.
My older sons (who share a room) were recently convinced that there was something in their closet. I could have told them that they were being irrational. That their fears were unfounded and they needed to suck it up and just go to sleep. But of course I didn’t do that. I went into their room, turned on the light, and riffled through every dark shadow–not just in the closet, but under the bed, too. We peered behind clothes and moved a hamper, shifted toys and searched every corner until we had chased the darkness away.
As artists, this is what we do: we chase the darkness away. Some artists offer a respite from the shadows by way of a little escape. A few moments (hours? days?) to forget that the world can be ugly. Others take us by the hand and draw us into the heart of it all, where together we can stand unafraid. We carry light with us. And when life seems hopeless and all is lost, we remind each other (and ourselves): YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
I don’t know what you write or how you create, the ways in which you coax beauty into the world and then share it with an audience longing for what you have to offer. But I do know that you are uniquely powerful. You have the ability to reach out a hand, to pull someone from the darkness where they sit in fear or loneliness or despair. What a gift! And may I say: thank you. For who you are, for what you do, for all the many ways that you make this world lovely.