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Resisting the comfort of the known

One of the things that terrified me as I struggled to write my memoir was the realization that I had to give over my storytelling powers to what they call the “muse.”

That's a whopper of a misnomer. The muse is often portrayed as some ethereal beauty gently summoning the artist forward. But it's really a call to enter the void, with no idea where you'll end up.

And yet, it's the place poets and saints, and even we more worldly folk, fervently seek. A place that allows us access to another state of awareness – not dreaming, not imagining, but a place where the spirit itself, what songwriter/poet/singer Nick Cave calls “the preternatural essence of things” speaks to us.

When it comes to writing, I haven't always been a believer in the void. I clung to journalism, the straight and narrow, the substantial, the solid, for a long time. Give me the facts, no question where they'll go, tent posts already staked: who, what, where, when and why. And I'll turn them into a story.

In contrast, and to my initial consternation, you don't always know what lies beyond the facts that constitute the story of a life. There's the truth beyond the recitation of events, in the individual interpretation of what events mean to our solitary lives, to our living.

To find that, we may have to access dark, mysterious places we have never ever been.

Cave knows that territory well. “I think there is more going on than we can see or understand, and we need to find a way to lean into the mystery of things – the impossibility of things – and recognize the evident value in doing that, and summon the courage it requires to not always shrink back into the known mind,” Cave says in his book “Faith, Hope and Carnage.”

Music is the portal that takes Cave to places words cannot. Luckily, we fellow travelers can join him on that ride. But you have to believe in that other place to actually arrive there.

As Cave says, “I think music, out of all that we can do, at least artistically, is the greatest indicator that something else is going on, something unexplained, because it allows us to experience genuine moments of transcendence.”

Our challenge is to resist the comfort of what we already know. And go where the unknown takes us, riding whatever mode of transport can make the journey.


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