I’m reading a fabulous book right now called THE MAGICIANS, which is about a young man who’s recruited to attend a college for magicians. Not magicians as we know them—sleight of hand, illusionists, and all that—but real, honest-to-God, spellcasting magicians.
When our young hero graduates from the magic school, the dean addresses the class and explains why he thinks people become magicians.
As I was reading it, it struck me that it’s very similar to why a lot of people become writers or painters or singers. Changing the word “magician” to “artist,” here’s the dean’s monologue:
I have a little theory I’d like to air here, if I may. What is it that makes you artists? Is it because you are intelligent? Is it because you are brave and good? Is it because you’re special?
Maybe. Who know. But I’ll tell you something: I think you’re artists because you’re unhappy. An artist is strong because he feels pain. He feels the difference between what the world is and what he would make of it. Or what did you think that stuff in chest was? An artist is strong because he hurts more than others. His wound is his strength.
Most people carry that pain around inside them their whole lives, until they kill the pain by other means, or until it kills them. But you, my friends, you found another way: a way to use the pain. To burn it as fuel, for light and warmth. You have learned to break the world that has tried to break you.
I’m not unhappy now, but I certainly have been in the past. In my last post, I drew a delineation between the caliber of my writing before and after entering recovery for my eating disorder. Before recovery, I tried to use my writing as fuel to distance myself from my pain, but I hadn’t yet learned how to generate “light and warmth” from it.
The light and warmth, I think, comes from using your creativity for a higher, less selfish purpose than simply distancing yourself from pain.
For me to do that, though, for me to generate “light and warmth” and hope from the creative energy in my soul, my wound had to start scarring over. I had to already have some distance from the food addiction that had brought me to my knees and hurt me so badly for so many years.
I still know the pain of bulimia and binge eating and depression. It shaped me. It’s a huge part of who I am, and some form of it almost always carries through to the characters I create.
But the pain no longer owns me. Through the Twelve Steps, I’ve tamed the affliction that tortured me.
Harnessing that pain and channeling it into work that’s about tapping into the collective human experience rather than running from my own private agony is what allows me, today, through my writing, to “break the world that tried to break me” rather than the other way around.