Healing Through Words or Why I Write Metafiction
What I write always has some significance for me, but after performing an inventory of my stories and poems, I discovered one particular fiction that defined my style and changed my life. It is a story, which originally began as a poem entitled Your Smiling Sorrow, and it continues to carry that lyrical legacy. Gleaned from its title, the poem is about the collision of opposites: joy and sadness, hope and pain, love and death. It is a dialectical metaphor.
When I look into your eyes—deep, dark, penetrating
I feel your sadness.
It is strong, subtle, and seeping through your eyes.
I reach out to you, my touch led by my overwhelming love.
I see a faint movement of your lips—your smiling sorrow.
I see your smiling sorrow and it heals my broken heart.
Veiled by deep empathy, the poem speaks to the unutterable experience of losing a dear one to death. Negotiated through a tender moment between lovers, death gets transformed by love and sharing of tragedy. While love does not entirely eradicate the pain, it serves as the stepping stone to healing.
I see your smiling sorrow and your whole being striving for hope.
A breath of power upon your shoulder.
This given moment is poignant with beauty of life.
I reach out to you and your newfound courage.
I smile back with all of my broken heart.
Closing on an optimistic and life-affirming note, Your Smiling Sorrow captures the trajectory of loss from its peak to its eventual disavowal. I tried to situate the individual experience within the context of common tragic consciousness, merging the particular and universal. As Norman O. Brown writes: “we participate each other”.
After I wrote Your Smiling Sorrow, I decided to make it a story of the same name, using the poem as an important intertext. Dubbed as my first experience of writing metafiction, the story is about a young literature professor who loses his father in a tragic accident and comes to terms with his trauma with help from literature and heartfelt conversations with his wife. Ultimately, I hoped to convey the power of both the written and the spoken word.
In an excerpt below, my protagonist Jack tells his wife:
All I can think about is death and the last words I heard my father speak. The immensity of death; unquestionable surrender. He told me what a life he had lived before his restless eyes closed. It was excruciating.
To that, she responds:
It may seem nearly impossible now, but time makes it easier. It is an entity with healing powers. Trust it and let it subdue you. In each given moment, time reassembles the broken pieces of your memory and spirit. I’ve never thought about how intelligible things enter you when your senses are acute in times of loss. You can hear a breath of wind, first raindrop, see someone’s sorrow. Things unspoken. The world is moved by them, more than anything else. You are never alone. There is beauty around you; there is life.
The first part of the story concludes with the emphasis on the value of words:
Through dialogue we are born again. Through words we live, each day garnering new strength. A word is like a gift of life, biblical kind of wonder.
In the second part, Jack prepares a lecture on John Donne’s poetry and he comes across a beautiful passage from Meditation XVII and his work becomes deeply personal:
All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.
As a professor of literature, he is drawn to words. He finds solace in them; they shield him from pain. Ultimately, they give a meaning to his life.
As he delivers his lecture, Jack realizes that unexpectedly he learns as much as his students, if not more:
He mounted his sorrow. He came to do what he loved and cherished. Leaning over the podium, reciting these lines from Donne, Jack felt an acute sense of belonging. He was a leaf in the magnificent book of life, bound to others, sealed delicately, carefully. Two leaves joined together, two souls in close and tender companionship. Jack profoundly felt the loss of another. His father’s passing overwhelmed him with sorrow. Unwelcome stone of grief pressed against the flowing river of words. Language slowly dissolves, washing away. Jack mounted his sorrow, standing in the small auditorium, filled with rich, almost empathetic silence. Translating his sorrow into remembrance.
Just like the original poem, the story ends on an inspiring note. Jack mounts his sorrow and gains courage to begin again. Looking back, I think my intent was to depict healing through words, captured in metafiction. Personally I am no stranger to loss, and I gathered that I wasn’t the only one. Life is full of dialectical tensions and struggle of opposites: loss and hope, happiness and grief, life and death. It is a matter of which side wins the struggle, and helps us make the most of our short lives. It might seem that when tragedy strikes, the world becomes unreasonably silent, but in actuality, it is filled with unspoken and hopeful words. Be it fiction, poems or simple conversation with someone who shares your pain, the world is emphatic and understanding. I guess the reason why I write metafiction is to restore faith in this kind of world.