Superficial Thematic Explorations of a Saturday Morning in September

I’ve noticed recurring themes involving anger, darkness, and pessimism in both my poetry and my prose. How could I not notice them? They are so obvious as to slap me in the face, hard, when I read them. But when I write them, their starkness hides behind the words I choose to write. They slither amongst my language like snakes moving between rocks, waiting and striking only when their prey are within striking distance. I don’t notice their presence until I read what I’ve written, when they announce themselves with a low, lengthy scream that draws blood.

Why do those themes grow like kudzu when my fingers touch the keyboard? Why do harmless words I use every day transform into psychological cudgels that shepherd me into a dark cave and then beat me senseless? Those questions and many others reside in my brain, where they’ve taken up residence alongside artificial answers. Artificial answers.  Answers that break like cheap plastic dinner forks when put to the test, revealing the broken logic and erroneous recollections upon which they are based.

Cynics are, by nature, suspicious. Suspicion is a breeding ground for unhappiness. Yet one can be cynical without being a cynic, I think. Cynics view the world as a place where selfishness is the motivator of action and altruism doesn’t exist. While I think many people act only out of selfishness, many more exhibit compassion, which I think is a relative of altruism. What does this have to do with my recurring themes? Those themes struggle against their antagonists: joy, openness, and optimism. Admittedly, though, my writing doesn’t often reveal joy, openness, and optimism. But the struggle goes on, if hidden from view beneath a heavy cloak woven from words that distract from the battle beneath.

I believe that, one day, I’ll be able to extract from my writing—poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and self-centered ruminations—answers to some of my questions. Not the artificial answers I wrote about but real answers that withstand challenges from every angle. I get the sense that I’m among only a small fraction of the population that haven’t found their answers. Most people, I think, find their answers early on and build their lives on the foundations those answers provide. Even artificial answers, when cobbled together with scraps of lies and baseless faith, can provide a foundation upon which lives can be built. The people who don’t find their answers early, though—or who refuse to build their lives on the broken debris of artificial answers—drift through life as if they were on the deck of a rudderless schooner with no captain and no crew. This is beginning to sound like “it was a dark and storm night.” I don’t mean it to be so deeply artificial as it sounds. I’m actually trying to equate the sense of an ongoing search for an unknown object with something physical. And clinging to the deck of an aimless boat is as close as I can come.

Another theme I almost forgot to mention: violence. I suppose it corresponds to anger, so I won’t devote much intellectual energy to it here. But I wonder whether my aversion to violence, on the one hand, and my not-so-secret fantasies involving violence to people I think “deserve” to suffer its consequences on the other, is symptomatic of the anger that drives some of my fiction. But, then, I wonder whether all of these themes simply flow from a creative well and are not symptomatic of anything other than creativity? I’d rather think that, so I’ll leave it there and go explore how one gets breakfast in a place like this. I know the answer: make it myself.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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