There is a book by Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried, about soldiers in Vietnam during the war.
I only know this book through another book, Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft by Natalie Goldberg. On page 127 of my hardcover copy, there is an excerpt from Tim’s book. And then Natalie’s words, talking about this and the truth of a life, and saving yourself through writing. I’ve marked this passage with pencil, and folded over the top corner of the page. What Tim wrote sticks with me.
So now I am wondering, what do I carry?
This is a huge question. My answer could go any direction. I decide to frame the question. As writer and artist, what do I carry?
There is the obvious reply. Paper, pens, pencils. But I want to go underneath this question. What do I carry that no one sees, until and unless I choose to show them?
I am thinking of things that are invisible, intangible. I cannot say weightless because these things carry great weight.
The biggest thing I carry. Awareness. Looking outward into what surrounds me, my moment-to-moment environment touched through my senses. Looking inward. Feelings. Thoughts. Memories. Recording what has been received. Then being aware yet again, in a different way, as I marry outer and inner awareness, and create word and image.
Curiosity. Curiosity is forever with me, perched on one shoulder or the other. Permanently five years old and interested in everything. Her favourite questions. ‘What is that?’ ‘Why?’ ‘What can I do with it?’ Curiosity lets me experience as the child I am inside. Lets me come to my life with heart and mind open, allowing, and fascinated. Lets me experience differently.
Imagination. Inward play sparked by outward seeing and by Curiosity. Sparked by the questions Curiosity asks, especially ‘what can I do with it’. This question is a playground for my imagination.
Creativity. My ever-present need to make stuff and share it. Imagination is the playground. Creativity is the laboratory, petting zoo, and test kitchen. Experiments happen here. The ‘what can I do with it’ becomes ‘what if I try this, then this, or this’, continued ad infinitum. Think pi with its never ending, never repeating play of numbers beyond the decimal point. That is my creativity in action.
I carry something Natalie Goldberg says is her great talent. Strong determination. Twenty years ago, the Director at the Victoria College of Art looked at my student admission portfolio, then at me, and said, ‘Stubborn.’ I said to him, ‘Determined.’ He said, ‘You start in September.’
Finally, I carry love. For myself, for others, for my world, for what I create. Love is at the base of everything I am and everything I do. Without love, passion, none of this would exist.
Tim O’Brien’s characters carried things that kept them alive, more than just physically. Things that gave a small degree of joy, kept heart, spirit, and mind alive in a place of overwhelming chaos and sudden oblivion.
What do I carry?
I carry things that ensure the writer and artist in me survive. The things I carry keep away chaos and oblivion. They ensure joy lives in the whole of me.
Paper. Pens. Pencils. Awareness. Curiosity. Imagination. Creativity. Strong determination. Love. And that is enough.
In this post:
Tim O’Brien, book The Things They Carried, Houghton Mifflin, 1990.
Natalie Goldberg, book Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft, Bantam Books, 2000. http://nataliegoldberg.com/