The Silent Scream

It was just another in a long, monotonous line of bleak, nondescript November days in western New York, the clouds gray and low, like bruises in the sky.  The last sunny day had been well over a week ago. I was driving to my Creative Writing class, the twenty-mile commute to the college taking me through small towns and country farms and fields.  The bare trees, with their twisted, skeletal  limbs, appeared as if they were trying to reach up and puncture holes in the clouds, perhaps, like the rest of us, desperate to reveal the blue that lay beyond.

baretrees

 

I had been in a bit of a funk.  November in the Northeast can be a depressing time.  The days continue to grow shorter, as evening falls by 5:00 p.m.  The air has a bite to it, reminding you, every time you step out the door, that a long, snowy wintry season is just around the bend.  Spring seems a long ways off, a distant thing that floats around on the wind like some vague rumor, some hushed secret nobody quite dares to believe.

But it wasn’t just the season that was getting me down.  It was my creative life–or lack thereof.  Take the Creative Writing class I was driving to.  Just a fortnight ago, I had turned in a short story called “A Day at the Beach,” full of optimism, confidence, sure that the professor and the rest of the class, who would read it and critique it for the following week’s session, would appreciate the symbolism, thematic nuances, and structure of the story.

They hadn’t.  None of them really “got” what I was trying to say, and very few of them liked the story.  In the days that followed, I wondered about that.  I had tried so hard to create something literary, rich with similes and metaphors, and subthemes that tackled the key issues of life and our existence on this planet.  What had gone wrong?

I passed a dairy farm, the cows grazing languorously in the fading light of day.  They seemed so relaxed, content simply to be.  Everything I wasn’t, with my strivings and studying and worrying over GPA.  Beyond the dairy farm, a dead November corn field stretched for acres, the stalks yellowed, dessicated, like a battalion of corpses. And on the western edge of the field stood a weathered old barn.  I had passed it many times before, on the drive out to the college.  But today it looked different.

corn

 

Its door was open, revealing dark shadows that retreated further into the interior.  Coupled with the two upper window slots near the roof and the one slightly lower, the front of the barn resembled a giant face, the eyes gazing out at the corn field, at the flock of crows gathering, searching for a morsel.  But the door–the open door . . .

It looked like a mouth, open wide, screaming . . .  I shuddered, literally, as I drove past.  My imagination–always overactive–instantly imagined reasons why the barn would feel compelled to scream.  I visualized the terrible things that may have happened within its four wooden walls, its loft, its dusty, hidden corners full of cobwebs and rusted-out equipment, long since useless but lurking, lurking, like monsters in the dark.  What secrets did that barn have to tell?  What horrors did it have to scream about?

barnface

 

I drove on, still thinking, still haunted by the image of the screaming barn.  It screamed, but without a sound.  It had a story to tell, but it remained mute, like a creature without a tongue.  And suddenly, I realized that was exactly the way I had been operating in my Creative Writing class.  I had been writing with the art of writing foremost in my mind.  I had been pressing, the literary equivalent to the baseball batter who overswings, trying to hit every pitch over the fence.  I hadn’t been letting my stories tell themselves.  I hadn’t even been writing the stories I needed to write.  If some idea didn’t strike me as “literary,” I chose to toss it aside, ashamed of sharing it with the class.  Instead I stressed over the merit of ideas, the complexity, the themes and symbols.  This was a Graduate-level class, after all.  I couldn’t just write the things I wanted to write about.  I had to write literary stories.

drained

 

No wonder my stories were lacking, uninspired, flat and lifeless on the page.  Just like that barn I had passed, I had my own screams, the ideas that kicked and punched away inside of me, ideas that yelled to be let out, shared with others, not because they were necessarily complex or literary, but because they were mine.  They were the things I was passionate about, the things I cared about and thought about and feared and hated and loved, the things that kept me up at night, tugging away at the soul, not letting go, never relenting.  These were the stories I was meant to tell.  These were my screams, which, too often during that Writing class, I had stifled and ignored.

blankpage

 

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I have had a few people ask me why I wrote The Eye-Dancers.  Why sci-fi/fantasy?  Why young adult?  Why are four boys the protagonists?  Why not two boys and two girls?  Or three girls and a boy?  Or . . .?  And I’m sure I could try to come up with some layered answer, discussing the themes and story arcs and character traits represented in the novel.  I could probably break out some aspects of literary theory and point of view and symbolism.  But none of that would express anything real.  None of that would come close to sharing the real reason why I wrote the book . . .

. . . I had a story to tell.  It found me, I didn’t find it.  It came knocking, pounding, banging . . . and I had to answer.  Once I did, it set in motion an inexorable tide of ideas and characters that would not rest until their story had been told.

It is like that with anything, I think.  We each have things inside of us that need to be unleashed, that need to be heard.

letourcreativity

 

So go ahead.  Write.  Create.  Draw.  Paint.  Play.  Talk.  Dance.  Decorate.  Sing.    Share the things you care about, not because they are “literary” or “artistic” or “multi-layered” (even if they are).  Share them because they are yours.

Our screams should not be silent.

beach

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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