Body portrait of me drawn by Deb Dixon, www.deborahdixon.com
I am with my friend Stephen in San Francisco. We’ve been dear friends for a very long time, back years, back to when I was a fresh faced farm girl trying to make her way in Tokyo. We have the luxury in our friendship of being able to tell each other the truth, even if it’s a difficult truth. I mean, we have the luxury of hearing what the other person is saying, really hearing it, and transforming because of it. In other words, we are good friends.
After having gone through a great deal in my life, I contracted repetitive strain injury — a severe case of thoracic outlet syndrome. I was incapacitated. I lost my career, and when that wasn’t bad enough, I lost my home. It was the beginning of me becoming an artist, but when you’re going through tough times you don’t see the silver lining. You see the ugly, torn, stinking insides of a worn out life.
Three years into this RSI, I was still lost. I sat with Stephen on his deck in his Potrero Hill house, a massive vista of San Francisco below us, and I was down. Way doooooown. Dark circles beneath the eyes, not a good thing to say about anything, slamming back too many glasses of wine.
Finally, Stephen says, “Carrie, you’re bitter.”
He doesn’t mean that I am just bitter over some small incident. He doesn’t even mean I am bitter over the RSI. He means deep in my belly I am bitter.
I look at him, lounging in a deck chair. I think. I am bitter. I am.
At first I want to take his smooth wealthy face and slap it. Hard. But instead I stand up. Some force enters me and I want to own this gawd-forsaken-can’t-afford-food-but-here’s-a-wealthy-friend-saying-I’m-bitter life. I want to own the whole god forsaken mess!
“I am bitter. I am bitter. I. Am. Bitter,” I say. We have a bottle of wine. I pour us both a glass. I hand him his. I say: “I Caroline Helen Allen am B-I-T-T-E-R.”
“A toast to bitterness!” I cry. I hold up my glass. I down it in one. “To the glories of full blown, tits to the wind bitterness.” I smack my lips. Stephen looks at me, raises his glass, and takes a sip.
I’ve thought about that moment for a long time. It happened years ago now, but it seems like yesterday. I’m glad I owned my bitterness. I realize now, fully entrenched daily (oh so fully) in fiction writing and visual art, that we MUST own our darker emotions. We cannot be an artist without doing so. When you’re writing a character in a novel or short story, you must be able to see that character’s darker side. Otherwise the character is two-dimensional, a cardboard cut-out.
Let’s say you’re enraged because someone abused you brutally as a child. Take that rage and press it deep in your belly. Still coming up like acid reflux? Ok, so take that rage, put it into a trunk, lock it, wrap it in chains and throw it overboard, until it sinks deep into the ocean. That didn’t work? Having nightmares? Worse yet — are you a shell of a human being, a smile on your face as you go robotically through the day?
How about bringing it up and airing it out? What a concept! Discuss it with a therapist, toast it with a friend, paint it, write it out. Frankly, my rage is a great engine of energy that I use to find myself fully, to express myself daily. Bitter? Damn right. But you aren’t going to win –you son of a bitch. I’m a fighter. I’ll show you. I’ll be a fully fledged, passionate, healed human being. I will give back to the world in a way you never dreamed. Just watch. Are you watching?
We’re all always complaining that we’re not living our lives to the fullest. Where’d our passion go? Why is it getting so much harder the older we get?
Get out the wine. Make a toast. You’re bitter. Own it! The only way to the light at the end of the tunnel, is that dark and miserable tunnel. Might as well enter it now and get it over with….
I’m a fiction writer, artist and writing coach. www.artofstorytellingonline.com