FIELD NOTES :: CAITS MEISSNER's TRANSCRIBING THE JOURNEY :: Incantations, Magic Spells & The Power of Writing: When Words Do Their Job
Editor’s note: We have been pinching ourselves to keep this a secret! Beginning with this terrific entry we will be bringing you weekly episodes of Poet / Artist / Educator Caits Meissner‘s “TRANSCRIBING THE JOURNEY,” as a FIELD NOTES series-within-a-series. Bald and brave, these process notes offer not only a remarkable look inside the creative process but also include selections from #caitsprompts, her ongoing social media catalyst / feed. (available on twitter)
Incantations, Magic Spells & The Power of Writing: When Words Do Their Job
On the heels of last week’s article, Healthy Creation: Smashing the “Crazy Artist” Stereotype, (click here to read) I learned a very dear old friend of mine has fallen victim to the most severe iteration of mental illness and is currently unable to live any semblance normal life. Though I had spent time exploring the implications of mental illness as early as the very morning of this discovery, the deep shock of it happening to this person- this bright, beautiful, charismatic, brilliant spirit who so deeply influenced my formative years- haunts me. He shows up in my dreams each night and my mind drifts to memories between tasks at work. I am quieter than normal, imagining and processing who he has become. Sometimes the tears come to the lip of my eye. The ghost of his true self, buried beneath the illness, has been visiting, knocking on my heart and asking to come in. I open the door widely. To run away from the feelings would be foolish- but where do they go? Where can I put them to lift the thick smog settling over my bearing organs?
I found out through an email from his sister, whom I also shared a connection with. Her words were carefully crafted and viscerally revealing. They barreled through me like a bullet. The picture she painted so clear and honest and sharp with unbridled pain and helplessness that it crippled me to take in. Throughout the week I have written old memories at length, scanned pages of my high school zines where his name and image appear nearly everywhere. I was searching for every scrap, and each finding lit my memory aflame with excitement, comfort and throbbing pain.
I sent them to her, to cherish and to share with her family. Of course I asked first, not wanting these memories to cause harm, and was touched and relieved when she welcomed them as comfort. In our exchanges, we write about the power of remembering someone, as a call to the universe to reach our loved one and bring him home. Thank you for making me cry, she says, I need to cry. Let us keep him sane and alive through our stories. Perhaps they will come true, again. The more we fight against forgetting who he was, the more present his spirit remains.
Though this story feels almost unfairly revealing, this sacred moment over emails, I felt spiritually driven to share it. Here, in this space, I have never been so keenly aware of the importance of our words. There are times I forget for a moment why words matter- yes, even being a writer. I have been told stories, and hold some of my own, that reveal writing as an almost magical act of incantation. I have written many poems that later come true in unexpected ways. Looking back, I can see what I have predicted, unknowingly, or even called into existence. I know it to be real but I often lose sight, mired in our culture of tangibility, realism and concrete. With the popularization of alternative and ancient medicine, rituals and ceremonies- and figures spouting spiritual healing seeping into the mainstream consciousness- we see glimpses of where the mind and words have created experiences in surprising ways. Despite my own moments of uncanny and inexplicable occurrences, I have always been skeptical. Often, these methodologies feel insincere, or quite frankly, cheesy. It is hard to fully embrace them as real when they are marketed, culturally appropriated or wrapped in silly packaging.
However, this week I cannot ignore the innate power of words. It is not in a false sentiment, but a true recognition of what is possible when writing becomes a tool to aid our mode of moving through life. It is not cheesy or overly saturated with a magical sentiment that seems to only apply to a certain class of people. It is not a self help gimmick. It is real as the concrete and the bustling subway and the heaviness in the air before it rains. The power is pulsing.
I want to remind us of this power of our writing practice, and how the craft can help us become better humans, and perhaps, change the world. Here are the ways writing has intimately and profoundly shifted my life this week, and ways that might help illuminate the importance of your own creation process.
1. HEALING & PROCESSING. Holding all of these heavy emotions was bearing down on my heart. I knew there was no way to step in and help my friend- his family doesn’t even know where he is, what street corner he is inhabiting, how to reach him- even when in their presence he is unrecognizable, powered down. I am rendered helpless and my maternal instinct is floundering without a landing point or access to a wound to sooth. I question my place in this story- what pain is it okay that I feel? Am I allowed to hold this hurt, too? Is it selfish? So many questions spiraling, confusing.
Instead, I take out my notebook and write for over an hour – every memory I can squeeze out about our history together. Every feeling I had at 13, 15, 18 rushing back and pouring. When I was done, a feeling of relief and peace washed over me. I am not done processing and mourning, but I have began an orientation to this painful knowledge. I have exercised the only control I have- my own, in relationship to myself, my thoughts and my memories. I have given my feelings voice and a home. I have released something out of the trap of my body and onto a page I can hold. The words are there. They came out.
2. CONNECTION. Sharing the words with his sister was crucial, and I was blessed for her welcoming the exchange. Through our writing, we were able to kindle a new flame of connection, even if fleeting, around our shared pain. Writing is often easiest. It allows us to share sentiments in our own time, and to receive others words when we are ready. We can sit in the silence of digesting and cry or wail or yell or go very deeply inward, and no one has to witness. In both sharing the common experience through words we create space to also be beautifully alone, with a ring of love surrounding us, patiently.
3. REMEMBERING: Forgetting is frightening. Our own mortality and fear of death is wrapped up in our ego’s worry of being forgotten. Our ego has to worry about this or else our will to survive would diminish- it is biological. But when we are facing the fear of losing someone close to us, memory can be our salvation. With mental illness, to forget the person living underneath their condition is to give up hope. In this case, the fear of forgetting means there can be no celebration of this person’s once-offerings to the world. I am not advocating for denial of reality or living in a halted space of wishing. But how do we hold memories as amulets of love and comfort? We search for them. We write them down. We look through journals to find a once-fresh story and relive the experience. It is not a refusal to accept our present reality, but a practice that keeps us alive and connected- beyond the flesh, to the continuum of life’s journeys, the human element of the scientific explanation that energy can never be destroyed.
4. SHIFTING & PREDICTING. With the aforementioned mention of the mystical and surprising workings of the universe, there is a strong thread that leads me to believe in the ability of words to shift the trajectory of a story in action. Writing words down is an act of asking, even when we are unaware of what we are asking for. Writing the piece about creativity and mental illness, and sending it into the world, I believe was a subconscious SOS call. The information that surfaced about my old friend’s struggle was not accidental in its timing. I had given the universe a clear sign and channel that I was open and ready to receive this information. It was time.
Though I subscribe to the power of positive thinking to shift an experience, I also believe we cannot force these most profound moments. Writing often comes from a need to purge or express- the moments when the words flow easily out as if arriving from beyond us. Staying in the practice of writing allows us to tap into threads and energies in our brains and hearts that we are not fully aware of. It brings us below the surface of our conscious wants and desires and accesses something deeper, something buried or hidden. When the call is answered, it makes sense in hindsight. Looking back at our writing often reveals that we have called the experience towards us.
Like my friend’s sister feeling that our exchange, keeping our memories of him when lucid, sane and bright alive, we are in turn, calling him back to light. The more we fight against forgetting, the better his chances of survival- that indestructible energy we are signaling into the universe. And not because we are writing a new narrative we plan and ponder and edit, but byorganically letting ourselves remember, writing the old stories to one another and letting the emotions flow.
Take out a notebook and write every day. Write to yourself. Write without hesitation and self-editing. Find your beautiful aloneness and connection to self in this practice and see what arrives. And then, be amazed at how your writing influences your life experiences.
For more information on Becoming a Fearless Writer, accessing your authentic voice and owning your power through words, join me for this free teleclass!
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Transcribing the Journey is a series of journal entries where Caits reflects on the journey of writing- her trials, tribulations, growth and thought processes- to share in communion with you, dear writer! Follow along here, or on her blog, and feel free to share out!
Winner of the OneWorld Poetry Contest, Caits Meissner attended the 2008 Pan-African Literary Forum in Ghana, studying under Yusef Komunyakaa. She has been published in various journals and books, including Saul Williams’ recent anthology, CHORUS. Her poetry/music album was released to online acclaim through sites such as Okayplayer. The Letter All Your Friends Have Written You, Caits’ collaborative poetry book with poet Tishon, arrived January 2012 on the Well&Often
imprint, a press where she also serves as Founding/Education Editor. She has performed at venues such as Joe’s Pub, Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Highline Ballroom, NYU, Columbia University, The Kitchen and the Blue Note Jazz Cafe.