I had a student come into my office the other day and ask me how she could keep personal, past experiences out of her writing. I sat there for a moment trying to think if that was even possible. Days later, I continue to think if that is ever possible.
The very reason I started writing at an early age was so that I could make some attempt to articulate my personal experiences, and, in doing so, learn how to work my way through them. Rainer Maria Rilke writes, "ΝO ONE CAN ADVISE or help you - no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write."
I told my student that I may be the wrong person to ask, and then I turned the tables on her. What was her concern? Was it a "problem" she wanted to "solve?" And if that was the case, was (or is) there a way that this is even possible (insert Freud here).
She said that she had a "very dark" past that she was not ready to face...she didn't want to enter back into that space as of yet. In time she thought she could, but she wanted her writing to explore other subjects, other moods, other movements. However, the past kept finding its way in.
It always does.
I told her that if she really wanted to explore other exercises, I could give her a book that may lead her into a different direction, but ultimately, I thought the past would continue to find its way in. I then went on to give her numerous examples of artists/writes/musicians who have created some of the most beautiful work from some of the darkest times in their lives.
I think people often feel ashamed of their dark past. That we must be these automatons -- strong...metallic...unwavering. That to say our past rings fear in our ears is something that should be denied. I know those dark places. I've sat in their corners. I've felt the cold fingers of night upon me. But it was in those very spaces that I created some of my strongest writing. It is in those very spaces that I came face to face with my fears and learned them, greeted them, and in doing so, became who I am today.
But I didn't tell her all of that. Instead, I questioned the creative process and wondered about its limitations when dealing with the personal...even when we attempt to deny its very existence.