Monday, November 21, 2016
by Christina Aitken
This is not the post I started out writing for my first contribution to CWD. I wanted to write about hope, despair, about where God is or isn’t in the hard times, and what that might mean for us as writers. You know, one of those ‘how do we tackle the big questions in our writing’ posts? But the words came out stilted, and it turned into a long computer session where hundreds of words stumbled onto the page but few survived the edit. Then it occurred to me: not all words need to make a grand point. They may simply create cracks in the world where, as the late Leonard Cohen wrote, ‘the light gets in’. Words can create respite and beauty in the midst of chaos, despair, and in plain ordinariness. And beauty does not necessarily demand purpose.
Some years ago I blogged about one of my favourite Tim Winton novels - Breath, released in Australia in 2008. A screen adaption was filmed earlier this year to be released sometime in 2017. The novel pays homage to ocean and surf, and Winton paints his devotion masterfully. After reading the novel, I was struck by the way Winton finds beauty in the fleeting, the untameable; in purposeless, finite moments. He does so through the eyes of a young male protagonist, Pike, who lives to catch the perfect wave. Set in the 1970s, Breath examines social attitudes and roles of the time. Looking back on his boyhood, middle-aged Pike reflects on 'how strange it was to see men do something beautiful. Something pointless and elegant, as though nobody saw or cared.' Winton plays with the idea that surfing is not just about adrenaline and thrill-seeking; it can be about searching out beauty for its own, pointless sake. For the complex characters of Breath, spiritual connection with the sea allows ‘light to get in'.
While cultural expectations and norms have changed somewhat since Winton’s take on the 1970s, the promotion of profitability and purpose over the aesthetic remains. The financial marginalisation of the arts in Australia’s education budget suggests a continued devaluing of creative expression. As writers, we can lose ourselves in the purpose-driven aspects of the craft, as we chase word-counts and contracts, publicity and sales. I am not suggesting that we do not need these things; they are a necessary part of the journey for writers who want to share their work and make money. But we need to keep our eyes open, so we do not miss the pointless but beautiful moments that feed our souls and inspire our writing - even if they do not translate into publishing contracts.
In a way, it is about not losing sight of first love. Imagine a surfer who knows everything about the sport but never paddles out to experience the serenity of hanging out the back to wait for a glossy left-hander - it wouldn't happen. There is a kind of beauty in the writing process itself, reflecting synergy between us and the creative essence of God-within-us. Let's be open to the beauty in small things; the comforting weight of a dog’s head on our feet; the soft palette of a sunrise; the feel of a child’s hand holding ours. These moments nourish us and our writing, and perhaps, they create cracks where light gets in.
Christina lives by the sea with her husband and two children, cat and seven chickens. She has published a handful of stories and poems and contributes articles to a local magazine. Christina draws extensively from real life for her poetry and is working on a verse novel.
These thoughts were bought to you by christina at 5:00 AM