A message from Candace Long
This letter is written to offer encouragement to those of you who are called to undergo something extremely difficult, for in that landscape of personal sorrow often lies “something” – a hidden brush stroke – that has the power to touch someone else’s world. This “something” carries with it, though, a heavy price tag: personal brokenness. And frankly, many artists are simply not willing to go “there.”
Featured in our 2014-2015 Webinar Schedule are artists whose work, I believe, exemplify this “something.”
Diana Alishouse: A longtime sufferer of mood disorder, this Pikes Peak Branch member explains, “Writers, artists and musicians are more likely than others to experience depressive illness. Our emotions are a wellspring of creativity, but we must live in harmony with them.” Through her canvas of depression, she drew inspiration from it to create a new body of work: “The Ragged Edge,” exhibited in the DC’s National Museum of Health and Medicine. The non-fiction book that followed, Depression Visible: The Ragged Edge, combines her art and memoir with factual information about the many aspects of mood disorders. (http://www.depressionvisible.com)
Pen Women Are Not Living In Normal Times
Our world has deeply changed. So…how do we as artists begin to make sense of it? We are, after all, “reflectors.” Creatives have a God-given ability to sense what’s going on around us, and express that sense in our unique art forms. Though it is difficult to live with this sensitive internal set of antennas, it is our gift. And this gift has the ability to touch another’s life in a very deep way.
The first time I began to understand this “truth” was when my musical A Time To Dance first premiered in 1989. As a composer and brand new playwright, writing it stretched me beyond measure musically and culturally, learning what black women lived through in the South, in the 80’s. Little did I know that a whole other storyline was being written as subtext at the same time.
I was awarded a grant from the Georgia Council for the Arts to write this musical at the very time my husband of 12 years left for a younger woman. I was baptized into a whirlpool of emotions (betrayal, rage, hurt, shame, and fear) I had never experienced before. Clearly coming apart at the seams.
A Time To Dance is the story of Geneva Jackson, a struggling single mother who has high hopes for her three children. Then she dies. But nothing is stronger than a mother’s love…not even death.
Geneva’s oldest daughter, Sophie, struggles with a hearing impairment and is the brunt of the neighborhood jokes. Sophie was born to sing, but her gift is hidden by deafness. As the storyline progresses, Sophie is walled off by anger at God for making her this way.
“Something” Showed Up At The Premiere
During the initial Atlanta premiere, I was stopped during intermission by a woman who was part of the volunteer arts guild. She said, “I cannot thank you enough for writing this musical. It has changed my family!” I asked, “How?”
Her husband had suffered a stroke several years before, and subsequently became a virtual stranger to her. During the scene where Sophie vents her anger at being born deaf, something stirred inside him. The guild worker explained, “When we came home, my husband poured out his heart to me after years of stuffing his feelings after the stroke. We cried together for hours…it was a miracle!”
That experience was life-changing for me. I knew it was not ME at work in this family. Yes, the words were mine…as well as the scene…the characters…the backstory…the music. But this whole other layer of spiritual and emotional healing was the real unsung star of the musical, breaking through this family’s pain.
That experience served to spark what has now become a long-held belief of the creative’s “calling.” Some, not all, are called to become broken through some experience not of their own choosing…and invited to use their artistic skill to express it to help others. It is in this place of brokenness that God uses us to deeply touch another’s life. We can’t program it or memorize a set of rules to get there. We simply have to be willing to allow our art to be used for a higher good.
If brokenness is where you are right now, it could very well be that you are being called to create your greatest work, to touch others’ lives who are suffering likewise in this crazy world.
Remember our legacy: An owl is able to see clearly in times of darkness.
As Pen Women, we see what others do not…and what we see could make all the difference to them.
National President, 2014-2016