Miriam Toews is one of my favorite authors. She generally writes fiction about Mennonites, small towns and suicide. Her latest book was about sisters who are Mennonites. One is a suicidal musical genius and one is a writer. In real life, Toews grew up Mennonite and her sister and father committed suicide. So, while these books are fiction, they are clearly writing about things she has experienced. I have to point out that while her writing sounds utterly dark and depressing, she has a way of thoughtfully making light of the human experience. Her voice is understated and she infuses a bizarre (yet, utterly realistic) sense of humour into her writing. I read an interview by her after her recent book was published and she was asked how she felt after writing this book that touched on her biggest heartbreak. She said that she felt 'empty'. I LOVE THIS. I actually crave this.
There few things that can make me feel emptier in this way and writing is one of them. It doesn't matter if all I do is dribble words onto a page, it always makes me feel a little less full of the unnecessary. It is not that I have come up with the perfect words to explain myself but it is that I have cleaned a room in the house or maybe broken the cycle of a thought. We all carry stories that torture us in a way I can only imagine that Toews was tortured my her own sister's (an father's) suicide. I think by writing out a story like this, you don't come up with the answers to the tragedies or the suffering in life, you just write out the questions.
We associate being empty with having nothing left. Giving up. Failure.
We walk around, head full of the turnings of our mind. We are bursting with memories and experiences, dreams and aspirations. How much of this preoccupation serves us? We are full but what are we full of? What acts can we pursue to make our mind feel less crowded? These are not things that made us feel like a shrivelled up balloon that has collapsed on the floor. They are actions that clear away the unnecessary and uncover a feeling of clarity.
I doubt that Toews would say that by writing she got rid of her family's stories. But, maybe taking on a creative pursuit like hers can enable us to take the things that torture us into our hearts, explore them, hold them, pay attention to them. In this way, we can create a broader perspective, a more vast container for our experience. One where our hearts can expand. One where we cannot connect the dots quite so quickly. One of newness and mystery where we just don't have a familiar map to orientate ourselves. Maybe in our pursuit of emptiness we find that we become more fulfilled and that, I suppose, is the emptiness I crave.
Image from NUVO