The Meditations is a curated series of reflections on writing and storytelling from contributors to the thirty-third issue of Going Down Swinging. This reflection comes from Nathan Curnow on his poem ‘Boy Got a Bullet’.
“Art is a quest for order and sanity undertaken by people who are themselves often disorderly, none too sane, and rarely loveable. Mercifully, art itself is greater than the sum of the artist.”
– Al Alvarez from The Writers Voice
I PHONED MY SISTER BECAUSE I WANTED TO HEAR her take on what happened all those years ago. Our mum still believes that her daughter was healed at a late night rally across the border. My sister’s legs were uneven lengths, and in a small gymnasium, in a town called Murrayville, God apparently performed corrective surgery.
Being the kids of a preacher, a large part of our childhood was spent waiting for the Sunday service to finish. Our lives revolved around the church, the Christian calendar and a strong community of believers. We went to church camps, tent meetings and to healing services like the one in Murrayville, where people worshipped for hours before breaking into tongues and prophecy.
It was pretty intense. Earthquakes, fires and floods were all evidence that these were the last days and that judgement was imminent. But we didn’t know any different so it all seemed pretty normal. It was all just another service to sit through.
‘Boy Got a Bullet’ is about trying to figure it all out. What can I truly believe after the strange stories and powerful experiences of my religious upbringing? What am I left with? How do my sister and I relate after all the trips and doctrine?
The piece is about negotiating these complexities, but I didn’t write it with the intention of solving them. I’m not sure they can be solved. I’m wary of ‘solved’, and I’m pretty certain that writing can’t do it. If anything, a writing life, rather than being cheap therapy, probably generates the need for very expensive counselling.
But why do I often touch on themes of life, death and existence? These themes must recur due to some deep down need of mine for answers. Trouble is I’m not sure what the question even is, and if I want to finish up with something decent on the page at the end of the day, I can’t be. I’ve tried to intentionally write for catharsis and/or as some kind of penance, but it never ends up as a good piece of writing. And being the kind of creature that I am, I need it to be good. It’s as if my intentions and expectations strangle it.
I think what I’m trying to do, primarily, is to solve something about the very nature of language itself. Perhaps every artist explores the limitations of their art which then entwines itself with the personal until it all becomes a complex and mysterious mind-warp, much like Christianity. Writing is, after all, a flawed and difficult faith, and it’s the only one I seem to be able to live with.
By Nathan Curnow
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