Notes on ‘Writing What I Fear I Cannot Bear to Know’

How to look into the darker windows of our lives and others' lives and probe the traumatic...

How to look into the darker windows of our lives and probe the traumatic…

Over the weekend, I participated in a writer’s workshop in Edmonton called ‘Researching Social Justice & Writing What I Fear I Cannot Bear to Know”. The workshop was organized by the good folks at the Centre for Global Citizenship (University of Alberta) and facilitated by two academic and creative powerhouses, Dr. Vanessa Andreotti and Dr. Janice Williamson.

As a freelance journalist/creative writer, it was both lovely and terrible to be immersed in a room of other writers and together exploring some treacherous questions.

(What did Galeano say about the night he discovered he was “a hunter of words” pursuing a “solitary trade”? He realized that until that moment of feeling his trade he “hadn’t had the guts to dig down deep and open up and give of [himself]. Writing was dangerous, like making love the way you should.” – Days and Nights of Love and War)

It felt of loveliness to be together with other passionate writers and academics; to see and hear other women and men who feel life on the page as deeply as they do in person.

It also felt awful because I could relate to many of the stories these other writers told, about their internal confusion, suffering and loneliness. As they spoke, I heard myself and I saw myself in the mirrors they held up, reminding me of my own uncertainties.

Like a good workshop should it left me pages of more questions than answers and more poetics than concrete politics about the problematics of the stories we tell ourselves (about ourselves) and the stories we tell about other people’s stories. (Sigh).

Here are my notes, raw, uncooked:

You can relate without knowing. We don’t need to be heroes. Let go of your need to resolve conflict. 

How do we create            l – i – g – h – t           from GENOCIDE?

What is the writer’s role in hearing/seeing/living trauma and writing about our own pain and the pain that belongs to others? How does the storyteller transform a wound into a poem? And what does the writer do with violence? What is her role? What is her responsibility? How does she be accountable to those who open themselves up and share their stories and those who move closer to hear them?

We are not at the centre of the stories that we tell. We are not at the centre of the world. We are only connected to the stories that we hear and we share.

You can relate without knowing.

What happens when you spend too much time living and writing in the political sphere? When you exhaust yourself with numbers of mortality, casualty and rape? When the trajectory of a story is much, much more terrifying than you could have imagined and you no longer want to be connected to the story? When you want to say STOP, please STOP, that’s ENOUGH, and NO MORE!

Let go of the need to resolve conflict…find the visceral vein, hang out there for awhile and flow…and let go of the rational, the raw bloody wound…let go…


Let’s say, there are only three forms of writing.

First, there’s healing. Let’s spit out whatever wretched thing is living on the inside, dark side. Let’s uncover what pains us, what moves and un-moves us, what makes us immobile. What feels impossible to tell. Write it. Keep it close to you. Healing is — what did those girls used to say? — a “hot mess”. It’s ugly and incoherent, it’s throwing knives. It’s angry stones, hurled at an invisible enemy. Maybe yourself, maybe an oppressor. Maybe everyone else. Maybe…


You are learningtoBRIDGEyourwriting…

Bridging [writing], begin.

Choose a language that people understand, at least the people you are sharing stories with, the ones you want to hear. (Wait a minute, you don’t give a shit if they hear, or not? Stop. Go back to healing. And repeat). How do you manipulate language, play, shape, mould to form meaning? Think before you bridge before you share a story…

Don’t say what you mean /// show what you mean.

“The rebels killed and terrorized many women /// Hanna watched as the hut holding her two sons inside burnt into white ash”

But at the same time you write — think about this — ARE YOU SPREADING POISON? Are you inciting more violence than healing with your words?

Wow, that’s kind of HEAVY, right? Yeah, it’s supposed to be. So put down your rock and ponder awhile. Killing the snake won’t kill the venom inside of you. Sharing the venom won’t either…

Three, Medicine Writing. We write to heal, not ourselves as writers, nor the people we write about (WE AREN’T HEROES) but we write to heal others, if others want/need and choose to heal themselves. Stories can be medicine.


Who is our work for? Will it create more resistance, or healing? Is it healing for the author, or healing for other people? What hat are you wearing? Journalist? Educator? Academic? Poet/Artist? Yourself?

one answer:

anxiety is healthy when we consider social responsibility

One Comment:

  1. Linda Sirko Moyles

    Marvellously said!! Your words touch my inner self!!

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