on writing

Writing and Disfigurement

“That’s what I’ve always felt but have never been able to put into words!”

Let’s be very clear. My writing grew up under intense insecurity. I grew into a writer in no small part because I have had a very strong fear of rejection, a need to have others on my side and to receive approval. My writing didn’t flourish simply under the spark of virtue; its development was nourished by the vice of pride and its attendant, fear. And there are the fears you learn as a writer, as you see the things that come from writing.

Every writer struggles with the weight of unspeakable things, and most of all their unspeakable selves. For those who treat writing as a craft, and as a lifestyle, and even as the primary means of survival, writing is the transformation of nothingness into somethingness, or at least the suggestion of a somethingness never before read or heard or spoken. This is the mystical power of the writer who can incite in the reader the thought, “That’s what I’ve always felt but have never been able to put into words!”

Of course, this creates a danger, the danger of coming close enough to personal experience while not quite catching it. And then the reader, not having any better words for his experience, will believe that this is his experience. He will say, “That’s what I’ve always felt but have never been able to put into words,” not because his feelings have found their words but because those unspeakable things have finally found words in general.

And, having come close enough, the reader will be forever lost to himself. He will live in the realm of this spoken world and begin to mold his life according to its contours, adopting odd disfigurements that go unnoticed under the masks of near-reality. And the arbiters of this unreality will praise the disfigurements, as signposts for a new world order.

But what else can a writer do? I don’t know you. And do I really even know me? The story I tell about me is constantly changing, evolving over the years. And the story I tell about me today is not the same as the story I will tell about me tomorrow. I’m always trying, and I feel like I’m getting closer, but I also know that I’ve felt pretty close before.

But I have to keep trying. It’s the writer’s curse. And his vocation.

Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops. 

1 comment on “Writing and Disfigurement

  1. Like Monet painting the waterlilies series; before he could finish a canvas, the light changed and the painting was no longer right. So he kept painting, canvas after canvas, trying to capture the fleeting effects of light on the water’s surface, eliminating the framework of the water’s edge and seeing only light, reflection and waterlilies.

    Or consider the poem Spring and Fall by Gerard Manley Hopkins. One of my favourites.

    I see great honesty and vulnerability in you Chris. When you write, you hold yourself up to the mirror and tell what you see. But you are not the mirror. Each of us must hold ourselves to our own mirror, and all our mirrors are different (and some need cleaning).


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