Art, Literature, Poetry, and Connectedness


“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”   – James Baldwin

When I read a book, hear a poem, or write — I feel connected to a world where things make sense.  Real life, on the other hand, can sometimes seem the opposite.  In addition to its other gifts of beauty, literature, art, and music help me better understand life.  Like James Baldwin, I don’t feel alone, yet it also puts my one small life into perspective.  Regardless of whether we are one voice among many, it doesn’t mean that the one voice is any less valuable or meaningful to the whole.  Reading or observing any art form is like hearing another human being’s cry in the wilderness as it mingles with our own.  Art connects us — not only to ourselves– but to each other.

I get a similar feeling when I look up and see a starlit sky, painted with an endless stretch of tiny brilliant sparkling lights, thousands of miles away, seemingly unreachable.  But then I find myself focusing only on one tiny speck of light–one unique star amongst a galaxy of trillions. Yet that one star doesn’t seem any less miraculous because it is only one in a billion trillion others.  We are like those tiny individual stars, each of us but one in the eons of other human beings who have lived on this Planet.  Yet each one is individual and unique, suspended in the common sky we call the human condition. If that seems paradoxical, it is; because that is the nature of being human: reconciling all these aspects of ourselves with life and finding our place in it.

While such an awareness only increases my awe, it also keeps me from taking myself too seriously in the vast “Scheme of Things.” I am aware that I am not alone and that I matter, and so does everyone else.  People–past and present–have experienced all that I have or most likely ever will.  The circumstances may be different, but we are equal and one in the larger and continually evolving mosaic of what it means to be human.  When we read, create, play, listen, love — we connect ourselves to all that has ever been and all that will ever be, and find our spot in the ancient constellation of life.

James Baldwin


“All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.”  — James Baldwin

James Baldwin is one of my favorite writers.  As a gay black man coming of age in the 1940s and 1950s, he experienced discrimination from two fronts and thus shaped his lifetime activism. He was ruthless in his pursuit and expression of the truth–his truth certainly, but also the truth of the human condition: good and evil and all inbetween.  He is an amazing writer, able to slice right through any illusion or mask I might hold dear and yet somehow at the same time lift me up out of the depths of the shadow and into the light.  He urges us to have the courage to face every dark thing and turn it into love — in all its many forms.   There is much more to say about this brilliant man than I can write in one post, but I urge anyone who has not read his work to do so.  He is one of the best examples of someone who wrote from the shadows of fear, racism, and prejudice of almost every kind.  In writing about it, he found the strength and clarity to overcome those things.  He found his voice, the light of truth as he saw it, and the transforming power of love, art, and simply having the courage to speak the truth and do the right thing.

He believed that love was the ultimate goal of human existence, and the only way to survive, transform, and overcome all that brings itself against love.  He describes it in this way:

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace—not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth… You must learn to make love with whatever it is that frightens you.”

James Baldwin not only wrote of how to transform the shadow within a person, but the shadows of society as well–including the ones that oppressed and attempted to silence his own voice.  Perhaps most of us have not faced the obstacles he did; however, he doesn’t differentiate between his struggles and someone else’s.  I find this remarkable in itself.  In writing of how he fought to be who he is and overcome all that came against him, he left a legacy for every human being, writer or not, to do the same thing with what we fight against or what fights against us.

He wrote his mind and in that process he certainly found personal healing of course, although he would have used a different definition for it than that.  For him, the healing path took the course of an often fierce adherence to truth:  personal or otherwise–no matter how painful, difficult, or even dangerous that may be.  His legacy is a brilliant body of work and an example of a life that transformed his pain into something that brought light, love, and truth into the most darkened recesses of racism and intolerance.   To be able to face hatred and stand unflinchingly truthful and strong in self respect and love for others is inherent in his writing and his life.

Two short bios on James Baldwin:

Image Source:

Photo of James Baldwin from Wikipedia Commons, a freely licensed media file repository.