*trembles with enough restless energy to power several solar systems*
There’s a certain kind of person that exists in this world—a sort of questionably half-mad artist, a human who writes and creates and exists as if their soul is bared wide open against the universe and there’s nothing they can do about it. They are so painfully human and deeply aware of it, bleeding themselves empty into a world that never truly stops to listen until long after their heart has run itself dry.
Ernest Hemingway, in all of his heavily dark brilliance, was one of them. I have his words scribbled on my sidebar, which were taken from this quote: “Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roof of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentences that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.”
The true sentence. What is the truest sentence? That, that is the reason for staring around a lamplit room at three in the morning, feeling an incredible awakeness, pacing the driveway and the hayfield and the walls of tired mind. It’s the center of an all-consuming restlessness. The restlessness existed before that quote was ever discovered, but once it was found, it seemed to put the impossible into words. The question is like an ever-persistent heartbeat: what is true? what is true? what is true?
Then a second inquiry follows, tripping on the eager heels of the first—why look for the truth? Is the answer simply to know it for yourself and hold it close to your heart, or is it to shout the words into every empty space this world has to offer? If the search for truth is simply a backwards approach to finding the kind of wisdom that others will admire, then is it really truth that you’re looking for? What kind of twisted attention are you hoping to find in this disaster of an audience that we call humanity?
This is where Jason Isbell, quietly breathtaking songwriter, casually says things like, “It’s narcissistic. But what is an artist if not narcissistic? I think a lot of us spend our whole lives trying to pay for that, you know? Trying to pay off that debt and all the times that we thought, ‘Well, I need to be allowed to do something great.’ Which, when you say it out loud, sounds absolutely ridiculous.”
And, well, you feel this moment of …oh. It’s kind of terrifying, at least until a familiar voice whispers that we’re all being burned alive from the inside out by a monster who carries the horrible darkness of the knowledge of good and evil, and we can never fully escape the urge to live solely for ourselves on this side of eternity. That realization feels like wild manic laughter echoing in a lightless place, because what can you do? With those words heavy against your relentlessly hopeful soul, the only thing left to do seems to be to pick up your lantern and gather your terrible self and continue your search for everything in this world that is true and beautiful.
See, Ernest Hemingway also said, “This looking and not seeing things was a great sin, I thought, and one that was easy to fall into. It was always the beginning of something bad and I thought that we did not deserve to live in the world if we did not see it.“
And that, that is what the soul-torn artists all seem to have in common—they see the world so painfully clearly, and they feel so sharply the depths of its joy and hate and fear and warmth and sorrow. They seem be saying, do you know it too, the feeling of existing in this place? It’s trying to eat us alive, but look, we’re sitting here amidst the carnage together. If you care to listen, I have a soul filled with words that could make us both forget, if only for a moment, the feeling of being alone.
That’s…. I think that’s it. It’s like they’re extending an open hand, offering you some small bit of light to keep in your pocket as you pass the time to eternity. See, the beautiful thing is, we’re all image-bearers of the One who breathed the concept of creativity into existence before we were ever anything more than dust. I think our own selves hold shattered pieces of that creativity, that urge to bring something perfect into existence—and whether or not a man ever chooses to acknowledge his Creator, he can’t escape that piece of his soul.
Isn’t it incredible? We can stare at a blank page and somehow understand how to fill it with words, however stumbling or self-centered they may be, and we can paint wild lines of color across a wall and scribble in sketchpads and sing off-key and build skyscrapers and thump a rhythm against the kitchen table and overflow with the endless possibility of it all.
what if we already are
who we’ve been dying to become?
in certain light, I can plainly see
a reflection of magnificence
hidden in you—
maybe even in me.
– sleeping at last | “four”