Writing in the dark

I started writing this piece not quite knowing what I would write about. Writing not knowing the direction of the writing has become something I feel at ease with…I have found I produce some of my best writing when I allow myself to be directed by the words that come. And…as though by magic, writing this short paragraph, has suddenly given something to write about. The ‘direction’ of this piece of writing is writing without direction.

I am no trained writer. But, if you have read some of my writing you will know that thinking about writing occupies a lot of my thinking and that similarly, writing about writing is something I regularly write about. This preoccupation with words, with the process of coming to words and of gifting words to the world, is naturally not only about words. It is also about expression, about control, about power, about connection and ultimately about liberation. Again, recurrent themes in my work.

In my previous reflections, I connected the fear of writing to the fear of freedom and then to the fear of power, and in particular; the fear of our own power. I wrote in my second article on the subject that the fear of writing is:

The fear of that force deep within us. For women, it holds the power to give life and the power to take life‘ (Kinouani, 2020)

The current piece seems to directly extend the previous articles (now only accessible to members) but here I want to focus on the process of writing we may say, ‘in the dark’.

On writing without direction

Most of the writing advice I have come across asks us to plan carefully what we want to write about. Down to headings and core ideas and arguments. So what is it about the process of writing without a plan, of writing without a compass or without a roadmap, that needs our attention? Please pause here to consider what this evokes in you, if anything at all, and take note of your response (you may want to take a few minutes to write down what came to your mind and/or body before continuing with the article for your own reflection).

Again, I am no trained writer but it seems obvious to me that our own attitudes, fears and aspirations in relation to the process of coming to words, tell us so much about the world we inhabit and about our internal world. They tell us something important about collective and about our personal histories. But also about the story of the world and how we might have learnt to be in the world, without necessarily knowing what we have learnt.

What becomes manifest when we allow ourselves to follow where we need to go? When we free associate ‘on paper’ the direction of writing without pre-existing ambitions or intentions, when we simply follow rather than lead our mind and body with complete trust? These are important considerations for all writers but I believe they are even more important for those who as descendants of colonial subjects and other trauma survivors, were taught control, restraint and punishment as superior ontologies or ways being in the world. Writers or not, actually. Controlling ourselves and attempting to master our mind and our body are I would argue politics of the Master.

Colonial schemas and the body

Colonialism has taught us that our body is working against us, that our body therefore must be carefully subverted. Think about this. I think this is quite deep. From white notions of the body as provinces of the chaos of emotions, to black and brown bodies being constructed as wild and uncivilised territories to be conquered and mastered by rational thought, to colonised bodies as unruly bodies needing fierce control and restraint to bring them to civilisation or again, colonised bodies as sites of enactment of white sadism and violence. War on our bodies has been socially sanctioned. Social and psychological control have been the modus-operandi. Largely because the cultural inheritance of whiteness and colonialism.

So much of how we relate to ourselves is rooted in colonialism. I refer to these associated notions we have inherited and that have become part of our cultural and psychic landscape as colonial schemas. These schemas include: militaristic, punitive if not sadistic engagement with our body, the distrusting of our own processes, wisdom or ways of knowing, and more to the point here, the restraining and controlling of our own mind and body. These schemas lead to internal dynamics playing out within ourselves and often despite ourselves. And indeed playing out as we engage with artistic and knowledge production. They however impact all aspects of our being.

In my own clinical work, so much of my attention is geared towards helping patients/clients change internalised colonial schemas. I am reminded here of particular clients with heavy trauma histories who I watch grow into a less controlling people and who become less restrictive of themselves, as they start to heal from trauma. This new found freedom is often even mirrored in the way they move their body and groom themselves. Tight hairsdos and body postures for example, give way to loser styles and more relaxed body positioning. Almost as though movement as they process trauma, fluidity, freedom and life are allowed again into their being.

Trauma, control and liberation

The collective trauma of the colonial endeavour is not the only factor. Historical and intergenerational trauma often intersects with personal histories of interpersonal trauma. And, when we experience trauma, control seems a viable and safe option to cope with the aftermath of overwhelming and terror filled experiences. Indeed, what is trauma but an extreme experience of having no control on what it done onto body, onto our mind and onto our world? Trauma and powerlessness come hand in hand and when we have experienced extreme powerlessness often, we will seek power wherever we can. With food, drink, and sex, for example.

Trying to exercise control over our own body and mind, is a way of saying never again. It is saying I will do what I can, all I can… to not ever suffer as I suffered. We control ourselves trying to control a world that may seem out of control. Or we exercise external control because what goes on inside us feels out of control. All this is understandable and human. In fact if you think about it, it is actually quite a rational response to irrational experiences, but here too this rationality is a mirage, it simply ends up reproducing the cycle of abuse and harm. It reproduces dominated-subjugated relationships within ourselves leading the subjugation of our mind and body.

But in the same way colonised and oppressed groups will resist abuses of power, our bodies too seek to be free and to subvert domination. Our bodies too will thus engage in resistance. Try to over-restrict your eating for example and watch how quickly your body gears you towards overeating and food becomes all you can think about. Similarly, try to control your creativity or the flow of your words and ideas and in no time, you will come face to face with what is commonly referred to as a ‘the writer’s block’. Because…the body resists too. And we should be glad that it does. Resistance is an extension of survival.

Concluding thoughts

It takes a long time to unlearn colonial schemas in the same way it takes a long time to trust our body and our mind following interpersonal abuse. Both are forms of trauma that often intersect and thrive on control and restraint of the Other. Unlearning these schemas is a lifelong process since structures of power and their coloniality do not rest. We are constantly working against the tides. Again, I am no trained writer… I write because I need to write. What I know of writing I have largely learnt by doing the writing. And, I have learnt that writing is not only a tool of resistance because it allows us to reclaim our voice and authority. There is too resistance and liberation to be found in the writing process if we allow ourselves to dig deep from that source of life. If we allow ourselves to connect to our internal power and to the knowledge we don’t even know we possess. That is the world of wisdom which our ancestors were forced to ignore but still resides somewhere deep within us, despite all erasure attempts. This is what writing without a plan connects us to, the richness of our history which against all odds, lives inside of us.

Thank you for reading.

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