The Heart’s Civil War

“… the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.”

– William Faulkner 

We are at war. We’re at war with a virus; we’re at war with countries around the world; and we’re at war culturally. An agonized people have taken the culture war to the streets with raised voices and fists and defiant attitudes. The war with the virus, countries, and culturally are a metaphor of the civil war waged in a world we can’t see, the heart. I define the heart as a human’s private inner life. It’s hard to believe the heart opposes itself. The heart’s continual conflict is with own itself and the problem is, we are forgetful. Although wars rage around us, remember the heart’s war and use that conflict to fertilize growth of your craft – and ultimately the growth of self knowledge. We remember the soul’s agony and agonize to work with it in order to know its scent, sounds, shapes, colors, contours, and textures because the result of our agony and our sweat sprinkle oo’s and ah’s upon a fucked up world.   

Why do people forget the heart’s civil war?

In Nicholas Carr’s essay, “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” he asks if human progress is linked with technological progress. He argues that technology sharpens certain humans skills and dulls other skills. For example, he writes that due to modern technology, the educated struggle to read for long periods of time. 

Carr says “I am not the only one. When I mentioned my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances – literary types, most of them – many say they’re having similar experiences the more they use the web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing.” 

Carr and his literate friends and acquaintances struggle reading, an activity requiring focus, for long periods of time because of new technologies. When new technologies arrive certain skills depart. When Faulkner writes about remembering the human heart and it’s civil war he speaks as if there was a time when people remembered the heart’s civil war. And the person who remembers the heart’s conflict with the heart cultivates creative shit. We stuff our day with meetings, shopping, and activities so much we’ve forgotten the skill of remembering to listen to our own conflicted hearts. 

Why else do people forget the heart’s civil war? People have forgotten because remembering the heart’s civil conflict requires great struggle. Certain struggles tug our attention away from everything except that struggle. Just as a child resists exercise because of the inherent struggle, people resist remembering their heart’s civil war because our hearts are packages with nightmares, welts and scars, and private longs – some are difficult to deal with. The human heart is resistible because seeing and feeling and thinking upon the heart’s civil war can bring to your house an unwelcome guest. When we remember, we look at who we are in all of its grandeur and smut. Good writing, good teaching, and good art in general comes from remembering to experience and express the problems of the inward turning heart.   

To sum up, the heart is what it is due to human progress and because it’s been torn, mended, and torn again. Brian Doyle puts it nicely in the essay “Joyas Voladores,”  When young we think there will come one person who will save and sustain us always;  when we are older we know this is the dream of a child, that all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forever more, no matter how furious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall. You can build up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant…” 

Remembering to observe and work with a conflicted heart may bring unspeakable agony and pools full of sweat but, the beauty which comes from the agony of self discovery is worth it. Let a look at your heart’s working grab hold of you and guide you to unleash your unimaginable imagination.

“Is Google Making Us Stupid” by Nicholas Carr:

“Joyas Voladoras” by Brian Doyle:

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