In his book, Telling Secrets, Fredrick Buechner describes a white tower with two rooms.
The first is a chapel on the second floor. It is a place of peace and respite. A silent and still place where one can breathe. The other room he calls, the Little Ease. The Little Ease is underneath the tower. It a tiny space measuring only four feet by four feet high. It is a dungeon created to press you in; designed so that you cannot fully sit, stand, or lie down. There is little hope in the Little Ease.
“The Little Ease is a place of torment, but if you live there long enough, it eventually becomes home. If you manage to escape it, where do you go next, who do you become next? If after all those years you get well, what do you do with your wellness? The responsibility is staggering. The freedom is staggering.”
I’ve debated for sometime now about talking, really talking about my personal life on this blog. Stick to the basics - ideas, hope, and the creative process - I’ve thought. But the more I write, and read, and contemplate on the creative process, the less I believe it to be about becoming a good artist and rather much more about becoming a whole person.
In my opinion, part of becoming a whole person is sharing where you’ve been. Part of escaping the Little Ease is talking about it.
Mine began to take shape around this time roughly twenty years ago. Late summer’s in Minnesota are hot, sweaty things. You could practically swim through the musty air that would settle over our duplex dominated, latch-key filled, suburban neighborhood. Hanging in the heavy air that summer was something that has hung over me ever since.
That September a couple of older boys took turns showing me some things about sex they shouldn’t have. Those boys handed me the bricks and I then I slowly built the walls. By the time I was 18, the abuse had led to addiction. The entrance was sealed and I was trapped.
Over the course of the last 10 years, through much work and even more grace, the walls of my Little Ease are beginning to crumble, and everyday it seems I’m somehow escaping this tiny space with my life. My body is becoming whole again. I can feel my heart slowly beating itself back together. The dreadful cuts from years of pressing myself against the walls are starting to heal.
As I make my way out of my Little Ease, I’m struck by Buechner’s warning: wellness and freedom do not come without strings. The responsibility wellness carries truly is staggering. For now that you are free, what will you do with your freedom?
Near the beginning of the third act in the film Shawshank Redemption, two characters are released from prison - Brooks Hatlen and Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding. Brooks, the older of the two men, has been behind the bars of Shawshank for most of his life, and when he is finally released he isn’t quite sure what to do with himself. Over the years the prison walls became his home. In the end, the freedom he feels outside these walls consumes him and he commits suicide.
Red, on the other hand, instead of being overcome with the massive weight of freedom, heads to a remote beach that his friend, and our hero, Andy DuFrane, had told him about earlier in the story. Andy had described for Red the beach, and the sun, and the salty air. Andy translated, in no uncertain certain terms, what freedom would feel like so that when Red was released he would have a compass to guide him. The difference between Brooks and Red is that when released from the Little Ease, Red had a picture of what freedom looked like, while sadly, Brooks did not.
All good art (and life, for that matter) should function much in the same way Andy’s words did for his friend. It should seek to tell the truth in dark places and help those who find themselves trapped in the Little Ease to imagine what freedom will feel like. The trick is, you can’t talk about either place until you’ve been there yourself.
This is why I do what I do.
I write, create, and imagine new things in an attempt to remind my friends and myself where we have been, and also to help us both imagine an better way to live. I will continue to share my Little Ease’s with you because I simply cannot help it. I can no longer disintegrate my personal and artistic life, for they are one in the same.
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