Patrick Ward words, code, and music

Restricted Beasts

About 20 years ago, I came up with the inspired idea that I might like to do some writing — maybe spin a few tales or comment on the scenes around me. I’d always written simple poetry and my song writing was known to the closest few around me. So, I thought why not expand on those lyrical drifts and express the ideas in my head more formally? I even took a few creative writing courses in college, in which I did quite well. I was told I had promise as a writer.

Whether through writing, music, photography, or other artistic mediums, I’d always found ways to express myself creatively. So, what happened in between the promises of the past and the shadows of the present?

It’s the same trite story that’s been told a million times: life happened. All of the usual clichés entered my reality in ways I wasn’t prepared for. Of course, it’s all fodder for the writer, but only if you’re ready to accept it. I wasn’t.

At some point in my addled past I became fearful of the words pouring out of me, unable to explain the thoughts drifting through my mind. I began to drag a long shadow behind me, a shadow I was not willing to accept. I should have explored it, but I chose to lock it away and pretend it didn’t exist. I decided that there were to be no more dreams, no more songs, no more writing. Imagination was too scary; self-assessment would have to wait. I needed something clinical, less emotive. So, I poured my creativity into technical pursuits; you can hide in the binary world, it’s less revealing.

Dreams, though, have a way of sitting still but never settling. Like a caged panther, they pace across the floor of the mind slowly staring out at the scenes of an automated life, waiting to pounce at life’s brief pauses. All it takes is one hasty moment of doubt to stop the spinning world and force you to realize the treading creature within.

So, why now? What has caused the cat to pounce so definitively?

It’s not because I’m any more confident. My confidence has grown but I still fear the light of public discourse. It’s not the inevitable capriciousness of middle age, although that is naturally a concern of anyone reaching that milestone. It’s not to realize the sweet idea of being the modern Thoreau — well maybe just a little — but I’m not so ridiculous as to believe in it. It’s not because I have something to prove. I’ve tried that and realized the emptiness of it. It’s not because I desire to be admired again, that too was a path misleading. It’s certainly not because I have more wisdom to bestow. I’ve grown and learned, but the only person I can change is myself. It’s not because I’m a better writer. I’ve improved, but not so much as to accept myself as such.

I write now because I have to, because the thoughts won’t stop, because they need to be collected, organized, and completed, because I’ve lived through too much not to share, because I’ve begun to realize the connections around me and the responsibilities they entail, because that wistful sense of a distant need to explain is still there waiting to be captured and put to use.

I don’t have any illusions though, the writing will have to improve and grow. It’ll take time — a lesson that probably took me twenty years to realize. There have been other, briefer, cracks in the timeline to help me get to this point, but I know that I’ll have to sustain this awakening longer if I’m going to see it to fruition. Even these current words evoke a twinge of shame, but I have to let them out or the words to follow will never arrive.

These thoughts may surprise some. I’m the quiet one, not known to rattle cages loudly. I’ve always hidden the trodden path of the restlessness within. Yet, the longer I stay silent the less I understand my own thoughts, the less I can give back to the world that’s given me so much.

So, the path is open and the creature has sprung. Only, it’s tethered by the vagaries of a personal history, by the fears and inconsistencies of a sleepless mind, and by a ruthless inner critic who refuses to lie down gracefully.

The trouble with restricted beasts is that they grow impatient over time. Their desire to be freed grows to feverish levels that defy logic and practicality. You can’t ignore them, they require attention. They insist on being heard and understood. They need to be carefully attended to and exercised. Eventually, you have to set them free, or they will destroy you when you least expect them.

And so this journal begins, for what it’s worth, as a way to see if this beast is worth feeding or is better tossed back to the muses for good.