BANG. There’s shouting. Everyone moves faster as the staccato stuttering of gunfire begins. People in the street scream. And then you feel a searing pain in your thigh. You shout, stumble and a squad member catches you before you hit the ground. The rest of the squad provides covering fire as you’re helped into the back of the Humvee. As you lay panting, you hear the rest of the team dive into the vehicle, and you all set off back towards the base.
At the base, you’re carried out of the Humvee and into the medical tent. The surgeons put you under and begin digging around, trying to find the bullet, extract it, and stitch you back together.
A few weeks ago, I had an essay--Zorba, Spock or Voldemort?—go live on Venkatesh Rao’s Ribbonfarm. I went to bed just as Ribbonfarm’s primary audience read and responded to it. Because I’m particularly prone to over-thinking, I lay in bed anxious about the response and the criticism I would receive. When I awoke in the morning my anxiety was unresolved, so before checking social media in the afternoon, I decided to write about what I was feeling. This is the latest example of an artistic principle I try to adhere to: explore while raw.
Imagine that every negative experience is Lady Fortune shooting you in the leg. The bullet she fires contains insight and wisdom and understanding. Generally speaking, it’s easier to extract a bullet or a fragment of a grenade when the wound is fresh and open. If you allow it to close up, to heal to a degree, it becomes a lot harder to get the bullet out. So it’s better to explore the event, the wound, while it’s still tender and bleeding and sensitive.
Another example of “explore while raw” is when I applied for a job at Book in a Box. I got an email saying I was unsuccessful, and rather than brooding and sulking, I decided to explore my feelings. The result was a post called Lessons In Rejection.
I think this method works. It helps me to process experience. Sure, it’s painful and hard, but it’s more than worth it. And yes, you could argue that distance and time and perspective allow the pain to ease and our perception to calibrate. But at the same time, distance distorts the message, the understanding and lessons we find. Our memories are notoriously biased and we load all sorts of impressions and analysis onto past events that didn’t exist at the time they occurred.
That’s why I think “explore while raw” is such a valuable practice. You see your emotional and intellectual response in it’s true, uncensored form. The immediacy of the practice allows you to extract the bullet of wisdom more easily. It compels the wound to heal at a faster rate. And it permits you a more accurate representation of the repercussions you experienced.