Writer in a Bulletproof Vest

by Iris Graville

Almost ten years ago, I got hooked on “Castle,” a television series about New York Police Department (NYPD) detectives.  Cop shows don’t usually appeal to me, but in this one, main character Rick Castle was a mystery novelist with writer’s block. When the NYPD questioned him in connection with a series of murders staged to imitate crime scenes from his books, Castle found inspiration in Detective Kate Beckett. Castle pulled some strings with a friend in the mayor’s office to follow Beckett and her fellow detectives in their crime-solving work in order to revive his writing.

Before going out on a case, Beckett would slide a gun into a holster slung low on her waist and strap on a black, bulletproof vest; bold, white letters marched across her back—POLICE.  Castle wore a vest, too.  The letters on his—WRITER.

As much as she hates to admit it, Beckett depends on Castle’s writer intuition to anticipate moves the criminals she’s tracking might make. She accepts Castle’s presence but, with his lack of police training, she fears for his safety; they usually encounter murderers or armed robbers when they’re on a case. She insists on the bulletproof vest.

I want one of those vests to wear when I sit at my writing desk. Popular advice to writers goes something like, “Writing is easy. Just sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” That sounds dramatic, but putting my beliefs and experiences into words on paper can seem as risky as when Castle slinks around an abandoned warehouse. When I sit down to write, I’m not exposing myself to criminals’ weapons, but I am opening myself to feelings that can rip through me with the near-force of a bullet or knife blade. When I’m present to the source of my writing, I encounter beliefs, memories, truths, grief, and joy that can leave me gasping for breath, choking on tears, or sweaty-palmed.

I know there’s no gun aimed at my chest when I write, no actual possibility of physical harm.  Yet my heart races and my mouth turns cottony as if I were being pursued by some danger.  What is it I fear? When I’m writing my truth, I have to go to those deep, tender places within. To the places where I reveal my weaknesses and flaws. Where I expose my faithlessness, my desire to be in control, my fears that others will reject me if I share my true self or that they’ll disagree with what I hold most dear.

In To Be Broken and Tender, Quaker author Marge Abbott writes of how she sees the Divine “… at work in the hearts of individuals so that they are tender to the pain of the world and the selfish power of the ego is broken apart.” The process of writing opens me and makes me tender to my own pain and the pain of others. My heart may be broken open as I seek to find the words.  My ego may be broken as the essence I call God works in me.

Abbott cautions, “Bringing the painful into the Light does take courage and can open many wounds.” When I write, I often access feelings and knowledge I didn’t know I had or that I’d ignored.  I awaken memories of hurting, fear, or sadness that I’ve buried so deep in my unconscious, the pain can feel like a punch in the gut. That’s the depth I want to get to in my writing, to those places where the memory and the knowing are alive, touchable. But I ache as I open my heart, and my tender spots need protection, the shielding of a bulletproof vest.

I could keep my beliefs and awarenesses private. I could, and have, kept them locked deep inside to avoid self-judgment or criticism. But when I write from my center, I know that I’m carried by the spirit that wants me to use and develop my gifts as a writer, that loves me no matter what I put on the page, that yearns for me to tend to myself and others through writing. Isn’t that knowledge my bulletproof vest?

The sky outside my window this morning is gray. Fog cuts off the tops of the trees and hangs over the bay like a false ceiling hiding a higher one. Somewhere—above that layer of fog—the sun, the light, is shining. I venture toward my desk aware of the love within me and around me, protecting those tender and broken places waiting to be opened.

This is a selection from The Wayfarer’s spring 2018 issue.

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Iris Graville

Iris Graville

Staff Writer

Iris Graville writes creative nonfiction from her home on Lopez Island, WA. She holds an MFA in writing from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts and is the publisher of SHARK REEF Literary Magazine. Iris’ first book, Hands at Work, received several accolades, including a Nautilus Book Award. Her memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, was a finalist in the 2015 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest and is now available wherever books are sold.

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