The Art of Understanding: Why I Write

Every book I write is an exploration of my soul. That may sound melodramatic, but it’s true, despite my best efforts to create entirely fictional worlds. Every story telegraphs longing, fears and desires that are too intense for me to examine directly. They burrow their way out from deep within via stories begging to be told. Only through fiction can I understand real life.

I feel the world through words. The words, to me, aren’t mere letters smooshed together. They encapsulate whole worlds unto themselves. Writers try to glean the hidden stories held within the words as well as through those left unspoken. I write in order to comprehend the depth and complexity of existence. If I am lucky enough to glimpse it, even for one moment, to tease out one tiny gem of truth, I will have succeeded beyond measure. As humans, we all experience the same emotions, but just as we cannot know how anyone else experiences the color blue, we cannot ensure that anyone else’s emotions are felt in the same way as our own.

To communicate truth is the height of expression—maybe of all art. When one person captures what others feel but cannot themselves express, they exclaim”yes!” That recognition of the common experience binds us together more closely than anything else. Nationality, religion, age, socio-economic boundaries mean nothing next to the feeling of being understood.

This is why music touches us so deeply. The sonorous landscape evokes our emotions without having to understand or analyze them. Without conscious effort, music taps into our emotional truths. When the lyrics further express the depth of those emotions, it intensifies that connection through an invisible current. We tune in. We are comforted, bolstered, empowered, devastated and inspired. We feel, through the safety of someone else’s expression, what we are unable to touch directly. From ecstasy to despair, that heightened state reminds us of our own aliveness. We feel connected to the music—to the music maker—in an intimate way.Tristan Prettyman 13

This is why I believe we hold musicians in such high regard. Music is the most immediately accessible art form. Even babies connect to the rhythm. It is part of the human experience to seek this connection. It’s also why we love novels, poems, plays and films, although they require more active participation from their audience. When we see the story of our own inner lives fleshed out in another’s tangible form we feel part of the world. Our separateness evaporates. We exist in connection to the whole, if only through art.

The art of understanding is the highest achievement of any artist. And to have the audacity to attempt it brings out our innermost insecurities and self-doubt. It is the constant challenge of the artist to feel worthy of one’s own aspiration. And to work even when we don’t feel it. But the artist—equipped with the tools of understanding and expression—must create. Like a doctor on the scene of a car crash, those capable of connecting through art have an obligation to try. For humanity’s sake. Without connection life would be meaningless.

And so we pick up a book, we watch live music, we go to museums, we explore nature, we love. We show love with physical proximity, eye contact, listening, hugs, holding hands, kisses, empathy. We experience love through connection. Connection exists with or without its physical counterpart, but when we are the most lost and doubting our inner selves, the physical side of love brings us back and reminds us of what already is. It reminds us that we are love.


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