One of my favorite wordsmiths (and, full disclosure, one of my favorite people) is the author of a recently released collection of amazing words called My, My, My, My, My. That wordsmith is none other than writer, poet, and spoken word performer Tara Hardy, who wrote the book as a poetic reaction and memoir to the sudden onset of a very serious and potentially deadly illness.
Tara’s bio says she’s a “working-class queer femme poet who writes and teaches in Seattle, Washington.” While all of that is technically true, it only scratches the surface of what she’s all about. Her work has touched such varied subjects as incest, abuse, addiction, and illness. Writing and speaking about such weighty subjects can be daunting, but Tara’s deft use of language paints such delicate pictures that you don’t even realize just how devastated you are until afterwards. Devastated, but free.
Her writing has the same impact on her, of course, and this work is no exception.
“I’m looking forward to my book,” she confesses. “Since I got sick in 2011, my life drastically changed. This is making me feel like I’m me still, because it’s the cherry of my art heart, which is such a ridiculous quote, so don’t quote that.”
Nope, we’re definitely going to use that.
“Poetry is the cherry of my art heart,” she continues, “so the fact that I get to engage with it still, even though I’m sick, is such a gift. And, in fact, I have to say that I’m ridiculously grateful to my publisher (Write Bloody) because they know that I can’t go on tour with this book, they know that I’m too sick to do that. It’s been a real blessing to have a publisher who’s really willing to work with me.”
Tara takes her writing seriously, as someone of her caliber should. That’s not to say it isn’t a source of pleasure and joy, because it is. But it’s serious too, because writing has saved her life more than once.
“The most important tool that I found just lying around on the ground in my late 20’s,” she explains, “when I was in the throes of dealing with being an incest survivor and all of the post-trauma symptoms were happening, the most important tool that I found was writing. The experience of writing saved my life then. It’s saved my life a few times.”
The real power in writing is not the impact that it has on the writers, of course, but on the readers. Tara’s writing is no different.
“The… thing that’s really a blessing is that, when I’ve written about being a survivor, other people, other survivors, have responded to me in such a way that says that my work has mattered to them.”
Take that thing that happened. To you.
Open it like a concealed rose. Hold it up
to the nose of someone else. Let them
tell you that you still smell sweet.”
-excerpt from My, My, My, My, My by Tara Hardy
Writing as means of survival is a time-honored, if not wholly successful tradition. But it’s an important one nonetheless, because of the power of words. Words are magical, you see. By thinking of words and committing them to paper, you’re casting a spell.
For Tara, using and experimenting with that sort of thing came at an early age.
“When I was a kid,” she shares, “I used to make up rituals that were basically little kid witchcraft to try to change things in my household. Like I would hide a penny under a lamp and say some words, try to cast a spell. I would touch the doorknob on both sides and it would mean that my mother would come home alive.”
Writing, like most magic, is a fickle thing, though. Try writing a sum of money on a piece of paper and sticking it in your wallet. When you wake up the next day, you’ll most likely have the same amount of money in there that you had when you went to bed.
No, the magic in writing is in the way that it allows you to reach inside and communicate with the words that are buried deep, deep, in there–words that you don’t necessarily use every day. Words of the spirit. Words that could maybe even heal you.
“When I got sick,” Tara tells me, “of course I turned to medical professionals and I turned to other sick people. I also knew that there had to be some kind of spiritual element going on, involved with my sickness, so I started writing because it felt like the thing within my power that I could do to eventually save myself in addition to other traditional interventions.”
It’s times like those, times when we truly come face to face with our own mortality, that reveal just how powerful words can be.
“I started writing when I was the sickest that I’ve been,” she explains, “and I just wrote, and wrote, and wrote, because I was trying to save my life. I was also writing because I really thought I was gonna die. I spent an entire year thinking that I could die at any moment.”
“I was very close to death six times, actually,” she adds, “which was surreal. It changed me. It deeply changed me.”
That sort of thing can have a profound impact on a person. It’s the sort of thing that, combined with other traumas resulting from being a survivor of abuse, could easily drag you down to the deep end. For Tara, the keys to surviving, and thriving, in the face of all that trauma are twofold: writing and community.
“The singular way that I am absolutely stinking rich,” she explains, “is that I have people who love me. I was able to build that community because I was able-bodied enough.”
“I had people who loved me,” she adds, “and they came through. They raised money, and the money they raised saved my literal life.”
And because of that, the magical work of Tara Hardy continues. And for those folks who need to hear that you can survive abuse, survive addiction, survive chronic illness, and continue on with your life, Tara’s got some words for you.