What is at the heart of why I write?
“At the heart of the matter” is an interesting phrase. If I place my hand above my heart I can feel it softly beating, I can feel the rhythm of the song which gives me life. What gives life to any artist’s work and what is at their core? When I ask, “Why do I write?” This is what I want to know. I do not ask to know the reasons that you can give quickly when asked at a social gathering; I want to know where the spring of creativity starts in your soul. And where does it start in my soul? Perhaps, if I can answer this, I can have some sort of compass as I go forward and write more often and hopefully grow as an artist.
A cold limited explanation would fall very far short of something this deep with a human heart. I must turn to my craft and paint a picture with words.
Look up and see a night sky after the last light of gold has faded and the first star has just pricked the bright blue of night. Watch as the heavens deepen into indigo and clusters of constellations glitter till they make your heart ache. That ache deepens as our appreciation of the beauty does and it hurts like longing. There is something familiar and almost delightful about the ache although it makes us want to cry, for it is such a deep part of ourselves.
Climb a lofty mountain till it feels as though you have entered the wide blue sky. Feel the wind lift up your soul until you believe you can fly. And watch the swallows. The tiny creatures dart forward, heading into the wind and then let the breeze catch them and sail back on the breeze speeding across the sky so quickly you must watch them closely if you do not want to loose sight of them. The birds are free in the air. And as the breeze tugs at your heart and the mountain lifts you higher, you are free in the air as well. You can fly. You want to fly. Does the taste of freedom answer the ache or does it merely make your heart ache all the more? But there it is again, that cry deep within us.
Charles Dickens writes about how all humans are secrets to each other. No matter how close you can come to another, you will never be them; they are mysteries which are too deep to fathom in the time we have together. We cannot fully see the complexity of another person’s thought, the entirety of their history, or joys and sorrows which fill the landscape of their own heart. And yet, we reach for those human connections anyway. We desire the love of our mothers and fathers. We hunger for the intimacy; we crave to be heard when we speak and to be seen as we are and loved as we are. And we are imperfect as the people around us and cannot listen and see others as we ought; we cannot speak as we wish though we continue to grow and draw near. The ache deepens. This ache seems to be the same color, the same longing as the ache which pierced our hearts as we gazed on the night sky and flew with the swallows on the mountain top.
We are very small creatures to be having such large hearts. It seems we cannot hold all the stars of heaven in our hearts or find complete freedom like the swallows or fully uncover the mystery of one another. We find ourselves going inside and flicking on our feeble lamps, walking back down the mountain with our feet still firmly on earth, and are secrets to each other. To be human comes with painful limitations but is this the answer? Is there something in the core of hearts which can simply never be answered? There is something beyond us which can never quite hold, freedom we can never quite reach, love which will never be ours?
But humans are strange creatures. We look up at the sky again and again although we know it will wound us with its beauty and we begin to write poetry, compose songs, paint A Starry Night. We hike taller mountains and taller mountains and make ourselves suffer till we can find that freedom again and again, even if it is only an instant. We write songs, stories, and melodies which gives a voice to the inner working our intimate hearts and find that these are the same songs, stories, and melodies which have been echoing in the hearts of strangers.
To create, to be an artist is to be human. It comes from our very core. It comes from our heart. So is art the answer to the ache? Created things are so incredibly beautiful. But a strain of music will pierce our heart; it is no better than the night sky. A powerful story will free us for a brief second like the swallows and then we will again find our feet heavy on solid ground. A moment of connection with another as you gaze upon a painting together will never be the full story of another human’s soul. So why do we create? Why do compose beautiful music to pierce our hearts and connect us with others and set us free if the moment is gone so quickly? Why do I write?
It is easy to live our lives looking at tasks set before us and not looking up at night skies. It is easy to avoid difficult mountains which take so much suffering to climb. It is easy to believe the vulnerability is too dangerous and stay locked inside ourselves. We can bury the ache so deeply that we are safe from any pain of that sort. But in doing so, what have we lost? How much of ourselves die in cutting off that life rhythm? How much of ourselves do we lose when we kill the deepest part of our hearts and let it wither and die?
That vital human core is essential for artists. Creativity flows from deep within our hearts where there are raw emotions, core desires, and such painful longings. Artists let the spring flow, but they cannot answer the ache; it is too grand and wonderful. While they may not be able to satisfy human hearts, their art can play a powerful role in keeping that part of human hearts alive. Perhaps this is the heart of the matter: art is the echo of the deepest aches of a human heart.
I beg all artists, and perhaps by doing so I beg all of humanity: never let us forget that ache. Never let something so deep and essential to ourselves die. Never let us let go of that longing, that deep longing. Let us taste beauty and remember what wonder is. Let us hear freedom ringing and never be wiling to settle for less. Let us hunger for love and intimacy and let us find ways to draw closer to each other. Out of the chaos, we need artists who will look up to the skies, climb the heights, and love. It will not be easy. But that is why I write.