Issue #97 / May 2020
I recently stumbled across your interview in GQ magazine “The love and terror of Nick Cave” and was impressed by your brutal honesty when answering such personal questions. Are you that honest with yourself?
MARK, MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA
How many Red Hand File questions do you get a week and how do you choose which to respond to?
PAUL, PORTLAND, USA
Dear Mark and Paul,
The poet David Whyte wrote, “The fear of loss is the motivator behind all conscious and unconscious dishonesties.” I found there to be so much truth in these words. After my son died and I eventually stepped from the darkness back into the world, I brought with me a gift that I feel I am only beginning to understand. “The gauntlet with a gift in it,” as Elizabeth Barrett Browning so beautifully wrote. I felt that my family and I had been tested and that we had survived, and this gift that I carried was the freedom to be honest with myself and with others — as there was nothing left to conceal. The protective shell that I had constructed around myself, my old life, had been torn away. I had been exposed, and I had nothing left to defend. The gift in the gauntlet was a new and raw honesty toward myself and toward the world.
Because, you see, the world had done its worst. What harm was left to be done? What remained to fear? What was left to lose that I could not survive? I felt extraordinarily liberated by this, protected by the calamity itself and perversely invincible within my own vulnerability. Deception, artifice and keeping up appearances took up too much energy — I didn’t have the stamina for my own pretence and little patience for it in others.
Honesty is simply a declaration of one’s own vulnerability — it is its keen, bright edge — and my own vulnerability and the vulnerability of others became, in the end, a kind of shared armour. I learned that, ultimately, our own truth and sense of self is all any of us have. We are enough, if we could only allow ourselves to be.
This is the great value of The Red Hand Files. The questions that come in, so often naked and damaged and honest, offer me a form of salvation. I am the only one who accesses these questions, as I enter a sequestered world of mutual need. I read the questions each day, maybe fifty or so, sometimes more. It is like reading weird, brutal subterranean poetry, and like poetry they need to be read closely and with care. This exercise has become an essential part of my daily work.
The ones I feel I can answer I put into a file. Then when the time comes to write something I choose a question that feels in need of a response. The particular question always leaps out at me, as if waiting its turn to be answered. I feel at home among these questions, exalted and protected by them. It is an absolute honour to be a part of this undertaking, whatever it is and wherever it may lead.