Shattered Face. Art restorers gathered pieces of a saint’s face as part of clean up efforts after a series of earthquakes hit Umbria in 1997 and broke frescoes on the walls of the St. Francis Basilica in Assisi, Italy. Courtesy of The Independent Newspaper, London.
Oh, the artistic deaths I have known.
My first death was around giving up full-time work to become a full-time fiction writer and artist. It was 1997 and I was working in London for The Independent Newspaper. I cannot say I fully understood at the time I was giving up full-time work to become an artist. I just knew I felt like I was on my last legs. I was 34 and I did not have the energy to continue my life. I would never make it through my 40s. Nothing was working anymore in my life. I just knew something deep in me was dying, had to die.
A photographer came back from assignment in Italy with a picture that looked like the shattered face of a woman. (I would find out later the picture was of a man). When he threw the Italy shots onto the desk where I was working, I caught my breath, picked up the picture and studied it, bought a copy to take home. The shattered face was my face. I was looking in a mirror. On some level, I must have understood my psyche was undergoing a series of tremors that would break it apart.
Obsessed, I traveled to Assisi to witness the devastation for myself.
In the tomb of St. Francis in the basement of the basilica, I had what I can only describe as a religious experience. Spirit entered and shattered me open. It wasn’t pretty. I was on my knees wailing: “What is it you want from me?” I crawled back to my pensione, sobbing. I guess I was holding so tight to the old self, the ego self, that the universe had to knock really hard, had to leverage whatever crevasse I had in my soul.
I spent the next three years dying. I died to who I was as a journalist. I died to society’s notions of success. I died to deep and fundamental notions of hierarchy and control. It’s difficult to cling to society’s ridiculous notions of hierarchy and do art. You have to be open to the beauty of everyone and everything, and like most of us, I was so shut down.
I’m writing this post, because in the past few weeks, I’ve died again. Or I am in the process of dying. That’s probably more the truth.
I completely finished my novel, and it began its journey out to publishers. Something in this ritual of letting go of it triggered terror of death. For three nights I curled into the fetal position in my four poster bed, the cats swarming my feet trying to find warmth. I clutched my head and waited for the knock on the door, for the men with the guns.
I am so used to “feeling fear and doing it anyway” I did not even think this was important to blog about. Then I spoke to a former writing client and friend and realized how vital this subject of death is when it comes to transitions in our art and writing.
I’d written my deepest truth in my novel and truly felt it might get me killed. I think the novel espouses a very radical notion of peace. Sort of in the way John Lennon felt about peace, or Martin Luther King Jr. And, of course, we all know what happened to them.
This writer friend/former client had the same deep fear with exposing her truth in her novel. I believe that fear of death can stop many of us from exposing ourselves in our fiction or memoir. When you feel that terror while you’re writing, please know you must be hitting a rich underground collective vein and go deeper, further.
Do you have the courage?
All I can say is look what we’re doing to the planet. How can we keep quiet?
All I can say is who’s willing to die with me?
I’m a writing coach. Contact me for a free initial consultation at CarolineAllen@aol.com, www.artofstorytellingonline.com.