Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bitter and Sweet

"There's a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable. You can see this even in insects and animals and birds. All of us are the same.

A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet." Pema Chodron, from The Wisdom of No Escape.

As a writer for a long time I found it to be easy to write away from pain and towards comfort. I wrote far from the core of what was me. Then a writer, Alan Barnett, author of The Body, It's Dangers, and other stories, told me once that if I was going to write something of merit I would have to go deeper in my work. I still remember his words as we walked around a lake upstate New York at a health conference we were both attending. He was ill and would die from AIDS related causes within the year at the age of 36. His words stuck with me. I would have to go deeper

I had no idea what he meant. Seriously. I thought I had gone pretty deep as it was. 

So I wrote more and tried not to avoid the pain of darker subjects, or the truth of the world that I lived in. It took me years to realize what Alan was trying to explain to me. 

It is easy as a writer to get comfortable with what we write. But it is so much more gratifying to head into dangerous territory not knowing whether it will be bitter or sweet. 

Now, what are you waiting for? Go deeper. Search for the bitter and the sweet.


  1. I remember when you told me that story. Great advice.

  2. Joe, your novel, Open Wounds certainly goes deep! Did you figure out what Alan meant before you completed the book? Seem so to me!