Issue #271 / February 2024

Holy shit, Nick, I just read Mark’s question and your response. (Issue #270) It was devastating. It appears that answering to people’s grief is somewhat cathartic for you. The pouring of emotions, and open dialogue of such agonizing life experiences is not something that comes easy to most. Is it cathartic? [ ]

MILE, MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

Have you not been through enough personal trauma to actually want to read the recurring theme of suffering and despair from all of us? Is it therapeutic or inspirational in anyway?

CAROLINE, MULHOUSE, FRANCE

 

What do you think of the other ‘Nick Cave’ the Chicago born artist? Do you like his sound suits? Are you a fan?

DANNY, MONTREAL, CANADA

Dear Mile, Caroline and Danny,Some of the letters sent to The Red Hand Files are so raw, and their details so affecting, that they can indeed take their toll, and so I try to exert a certain self-protective remove when answering them. I suppose I do this by practising compassion rather than empathy – being moved by someone’s suffering and wanting to help, rather than putting myself in their position and feeling their pain. Standing a step away and seeking to assist someone in need, rather than being disabled by their despair, seems to be the way to manage these things. I have found this works, as Bob Dylan poignantly sang, ‘most of the time.’

I don’t find the process of replying to these letters cathartic or therapeutic, although it may well have been when I started The Red Hand Files. Neither do I find writing my replies inspirational, in the sense that it does not inspire me, for example, to write a song. Mostly I see what I do as a human duty, I feel I am playing my part in what has become an ever-expanding and robustly vulnerable community of soul-barers. In this space I have come face to face with a kind of truth – a truth that has embedded itself in my life, and which demands something of me, whether I like it or not. I don’t mean that it is some kind of burden, it is anything but, for duty is often the very thing that ultimately bears the greatest rewards. To act dutifully is to acknowledge that things matter, that things have value and are worth caring for.

The Red Hand Files have become a quietly instructive influence over the way I try to live my life, which is openly and with curiosity. They are a kind of existential condition, a means by which to navigate the world, a way to be. They have also, perplexingly, brought to light a kind of ministering impulse that I am both proud of and somewhat embarrassed by. Whatever it is that is going on here at The Red Hand Files, it is a true privilege to be a part of it and I thank you all for that. It is never more than I can handle.

Danny, I have admired the work of the American artist, Nick Cave, for many years. In creating his soundsuits he famously and audaciously turned the rage, grief and helplessness he experienced after the LAPD’s beating of Rodney King into deeply joyful, even rapturous art. The soundsuits became a kind of ecstatic armour. Perhaps, in their quiet, faltering way, The Red Hand Files are not dissimilar in their intent – an attempt to transmute suffering into a kind of knowing and shielding joy. Joy as armour. Love as shelter. I don’t know. I hope so.

Love, Nick

 

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