On Tenderness

As I wait, I write and the more I write, the more I am immersed in this other world made up of authors and books and words that awaken my imagination. Reading to me now is like stepping into a dimly lit room – I look at everything carefully.

I look at the structure, the words used, the way that I am led in and out of paragraphs. Everything has meaning to me. I am looking for signs of the tools used to craft the piece of writing. I am looking for what I can learn from and make my own.

But seven months ago when I first started to write I didn’t want to read because I didn’t want to be influenced.

I had been living for years under the influence of my abusive husband and I wanted out of influence and into my own space. I wanted to breathe and know what my own voice sounded like.

I was afraid that reading would influence my thoughts and take over what I expected of myself as a writer. That it might inhibit me and make me feel once again not good enough. But I realized that reading was necessary because as you write you become hungry for words and expressions to paint your imagination. Reading is writing’s counterpart.

I started with Kerouac. He happened to be on my desk and I thought that it was significant since the title of the book was “On the Road.” I felt like I was metaphysically on the road in my life at that moment so the title resonated and I was curious.

I read his biography first because I wanted to know more about the man behind the words before I read them. I wanted to see what kind of connection there was between his life and the words he used to express himself. Up to that point I had known nothing about him.

What I found out was that we had two things in common – an interest in Buddhist philosophy and a love of using the dash.

Normally the dash is used when you want to emphasize the conclusion of your sentence but to Kerouac, it’s the vigorous space dash separating rhetorical breathing (as jazz musician drawing breath between outblown phrases) – a way to note down time without stopping.  It’s also my preferred method of holding space between fast flowing inspired thoughts because it is the only way that I can keep up with them and record them.

I moved onto his poems and to his books and looking past his drunkenness and his strange love for his mother, I discovered a man in whom the tender and the troubled coexisted.

From what I read it was clear that he was searching for the rugged and ecstatic joy of pure being. His disregard for rules allowed him to create a language that danced to its own rhythm and his intimacy with the never ending road and the people on it gives us a glimpse into a way of life that most of us choose to remain ignorant of.

I can see from his interviews that he was a shy, gentle and sensitive man. He was worn out by the reality of the outside world he lived in and yet he remained tender and yielding to the beauty he found.

The tenderness and vulnerability are what I appreciate most about his work. And also the fact that he understood the weight of his words because he had lived them.

I have lots of things to teach you now, in case we ever meet, concerning the message that was transmitted to me under a pine tree in North Carolina on a cold winter moonlit night. It said that Nothing Ever Happened, so don’t worry. It’s all like a dream. Everything is ecstasy, inside. We just don’t know it because of our thinking-minds. Kerouac, January 1957

He couldn’t influence my writing. His voice was completely his own. Instead what he could do, and what any good writer does, is he could teach me how to find my own voice. Studying his work gave me an important perspective on writing.

It showed me that writing as a creative process was a set of rules that were meant to be broken as long as it brought you closer to expressing your own truth and experience of life.

I pinned his 30 point list entitled Belief and Technique for Modern Prose above my writing desk where I could glance and be inspired by it.

My favourite rules being – scribble secret notebooks and wild typewritten pages for your own joy; be submissive to everything, open, listening; accept loss forever; struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind and believe in the holy contour of life.

I do believe in the holy contour of life and there is no doubt that I am drawn to tenderness.

When I find tenderness in literature it makes me sit up and pay attention to the words being used to convey it. I go over the words again just to make sure that I have read the words correctly.

I read them with intent to feel what was written. Tender words, especially those that are heartfelt and full of wisdom, have this way with me. I know them by the way that they open me up and draw me in.

Moving away from Kerouac I find tenderness once more in the work of Sabahattin Ali’s Madonna with a Fur Coat.

This time I found a profound magical tenderness that crosses the boundaries of gender to reveal the vulnerability inherent in the act of loving and wanting to be loved. He does this with tremendous feeling and reveals a place where only love can exist and only love can understand.

As I read, I explore and question my own ability to be tender both with my self and the world around me. To me tenderness is a way of knowing and a way of speaking that doesn’t require words. It’s what allows us to know another person and the world around us beyond what is superficial.





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