Pain engraves a deeper memory

I can’t put Devotion down. Run, don’t walk, to buy it. To say I’m obsessed is an understatement. I feel as though Dani Shapiro is speaking straight from my heart, albeit far more elegantly and eloquently than I ever could.  I’m about 2/3 of the way through and I have underlined at least a big chunk of most of the pages.  I love Dani’s voice, she writes about the same things that are utterly preoccupying me right now, and I just don’t even have words yet for the way this story is touching me.  I am sure this will be the first of many posts about this book.

But one passage in particular is on my mind today.  I’ve been thinking for weeks that I needed to write about how this is my blog.  Not my life.  Not my spirit.  I get a fair number of inquiries, from people in person and through email, people I know personally and people I don’t, asking if I am okay.  These people mean well, I’m sure of it.  And I am often taken aback by the question because I am more than okay.  I am well.  I realize that people are responding to what they read here, and I know this is a public forum and that of course I choose what I write and publish.

This is what I read in Devotion that brought this recent issue to mind:

“The poet Anne Sexton was once asked why she wrote almost exclusively about dark and difficult subjects: Pain engraves a deeper memory was her response.

I love Anne Sexton, wrote my thesis in college on her, and any mention of her makes me feel instantly connected.  I’m surprised, actually, that I had never heard this sentence.  “I look for uncomplicated hymns, but love has none,” is one of my favorite quotations of both hers and all time.  This one goes on that list.  I think there is power and truth in those five words.

Yes.  I have long responded to those who, from their experience on this blog, express concern that I seem gloomy and sad that that isn’t true – it’s just that I find in the more complicated thoughts more fertile ground for exploration.  The grayer parts of my heart and head are where the interesting stuff to write about is, at least to my mind.  I am not particularly interested in reading anyone writing about how fantastic and perfect their life is, least of all me.  And, while my life is absolutely, inarguably rich and full and tremendously blessed, it’s not true that I experience every day as unmitigated sunshine.  I don’t.

I’ve written before about how I “incline towards melancholy.”  There’s no question about that.  But I also firmly believe that this tendency to feel things deeply also allows me to experience a surpassing joy that might not be available to me without the darkness.  I still don’t know if this connection is about capacity or contrast; I’m not sure it matters.  I think I lean towards capacity, though: because of the deep scars that pain has engraved into my spirit, there is a deep repository for joy, when it comes, to fill.

The introspection on this blog is definitely part of my personality, and there is nothing inauthentic here.  But the blog is also not a comprehensive representation of my life; far from it.  I understand the confusion that occurs there and know that it comes from a place of support and love.  I guess I just felt compelled to say, in the echoing voices of two of my literary idols, that my choice of topics is just because pain engraves a deeper memory.

20 thoughts on “Pain engraves a deeper memory”

  1. “Pain engraves a deeper memory.” So simple, so true. I appreciate the way in which you delineate the difference between a life filled with pain and a life filled with blessings occasionally punctuated by pain. I suspect that many of us can relate both to this reality and to an interest in exploring the “grayer parts” of our hearts and minds.

    Thank you Dani Shapiro, Anne Sexton, and, of course, Lindsey for these ideas.

  2. Truth, elegantly written, truth – this is why I love to read your blog.

    You talk about things that I feel as well, but I’m sometimes afraid to say. You inspire me to say them too.

    In doing that, I find I am getting closer to my own truth.

  3. Kristen – yes. A life filled with pain vs. a life filled with blessing occasionally punctuated by pain. I could not have said it so elegantly. Thank you.

  4. This is one of the best blog posts I have ever read. I love the quotation but I even love the sentiment more. It is so easy to be labelled “oh she is all about that”, life has so many angles and areas and so do we as human beings.
    Thank you.

  5. Funny, I mention Sexton today over at The Never-True Tales. I identify strongly with her, too. Some of us just have souls that gravitate towards the shadows. It’s the way we are wired. It doesn’t make us unhappy people; we just are more accustomed to the dark than others. We don’t need nightlights though, because we don’t fear the dark. We understand it.

  6. i frequently say that gray is my favorite color. what i mean is what you say here: i find the gray thoughts/feelings/places more interesting, chewier. i am drawn, attracted to them. around here, though, the prevailing attitude is that those who talk/speak/seek/recognize/acknowledge gray must immediately (a) put on a happy face and get on with it or (b) seek immediate therapy. i grow so weary. i have covered up too much of my life and in dressing it up from other people’s wardrobes, i have dismissed and disrespected my self. no more.

  7. In my life, pain has been a doorway into my soul. When my husband died in front of my eyes, the pain was unbearable, yet it wasn’t. I did bear it. I felt it. I couldn’t run from it because it had me. And, I am so glad I couldn’t, because it is what opened me up to the beauty of the world. Pain is beautiful in its own way. Pain breaks the heart open so we are no longer separate from the pain and suffering of the world. I, too, am seen as deep, serious, and often sad.
    Blessings to you, dear friend.

  8. Lindsey, it is your introspection that brings me back time and time again. When you write, my heart leaps with joy at having found a kindred spirit.

    Like you, I lean toward the melancholy. I’m not unhappy, I just tend to reflect.

  9. I just started DEVOTION. Its theme is really universal, something I think a lot of us can relate to! Have you watched Dani’s trailer on her Web site? I love it because she tells the story, and now when I’m reading the book, I can hear her soothing voice.

    Looking forward to more posts on your reaction to Devotion. How great that it makes you think about your own life! That’s the sign of a solid memoir.

  10. Hi Lindsey, In my first writing class, my professor never allowed us to assume anything was “true,” even if the writer said it was creative nonfiction. We’d always have to refer to the work as just that – a piece of writing containing characters. It was a very important lesson even for blogging in that here we only reveal what we want to reveal. I write a humorous blog but, of course, I live a real life. Not every day is funny. I’ve had many miserable days – all while writing my humorous blog.

  11. Your words ring so true with so many of us. I cringe in that a friend told me I was strong. I could deal with a problem that was coming where as the friend did not think that she could. I wrote a letter to that friend on my blog and truly I am not that strong. I feel the pain but realize it moves me to see the brightness in life easier. If we only experience the bright light, it becomes dulled to our senses.

    What you wrote takes me to lyrics from a popular song by Lady Antebellum: “Guess I’d rather hurt than feel nothing at all”

  12. Lindsey: Your courage to tell the truth is what makes you and your writing so beautiful, meaningful, strong, poignant, and important.

    ‘Must take issue with one statement however:

    “Dani Shapiro is speaking straight from my heart, albeit far more elegantly and eloquently than I ever could.”

    Indeed, she is an amazing writer, but I won’t accept that such is any less true about you. I wonder if perhaps, at least in part, her writing style and ability (so close to your own) is why she touches you in such deep places; a mirror of your own heart, voice, and yes, elegance and eloquence.

    You invite all of us to feel the contractions; the parts of our lives and hearts we’d sometimes rather dull with an epidural or just ignore completely. Your labor and birthing is glorious!

  13. Feeling deeply (though painful as it may be) is much better not not feeling at all because that is simply not lively. Feeling deeply allows you to love to the core of your being and experience life to it’s fullest. Those feelings strengthen us and shape us into who we are, and we are ever changing.

  14. This post is beautiful, Lyndsey. I think your blog is lovely and I will read bits and pieces (your older posts) as I have time.

    I just finished reading Devotion as well (and furiously underlined my way through it.) Dani Shapiro is one of my favorite writers so I know what to expect from her. Even so, this particular work took my breath away.

    I appreciate how much you share of yourself here. I am also quite introspective, sensitive and a more than a little dark. My mother would describe me as intense (and not in a good way.) Lately, though, I have been discovering new sources of joy and ways to protect myself from taking on too much of the suffering in the world. Joy and pain, sugar and salt.

    Your writing is elegant and true.

  15. I am a little late in commenting on this post–I read it on Sunday and honestly have been thinking about it since then. I love posts that make me think!! I have also been thinking about how to comment since then. Such an excellent reminder on a number of levels. I keep thinking about why we always associate heavy questions and going deep with being depressed or sad. Something that I think is missing from the self-help movement is that life is complex. Yes we should think positively but life can be hard and there are tough questions. When we answer those deep questions we can then embrace our joy and our melancholy!

    I also found it fascinating when you said that people often ask you if you are depressed it made me realize how we never really know how we are perceived. Ironic that we are such complex, layered creatures yet our first habit is to simplify each other into one dimensional beings.

    As Always–Thank you.

    Off to buy Devotion!

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