The Well of Grief, a poem by David Whyte

Every time a crack appears in the dam that keeps my sea of grief at bay, I am reminded of this David Whyte poem:

The Well of Grief
David Whyte

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,

turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,

will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering,

the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.

Source: David Whyte’s Facebook page, accessed 6 November 2020.

You can watch a video of the poet himself reciting the poem here (also from David Whyte’s Facebook page, accessed 10 January 2022).

I love hearing him tell the deeper story about the bottom of the well, and how he repeats certain lines, certain words, and then the entire poem in entirely different ways!

Keeping the baby AND the bathwater

We are complicit with everything we buy and click on and watch.

I’ve been struggling for months (if not years? decades?) to make sense of where to file the work of once-favorite actors, artists, comedians, scientists, authors, thinkers, etc who turn out to have done some very awful things (see: #metoo).

A couple weeks ago, someone suggested that I consider integrating both the baby AND the bathwater, rather than trying to figure out what to keep and what to toss. The idea of this approach appeals to me… but how?

This Art Assignment video does an excellent job of both articulating the conundrum and describing what’s actually at stake / why what we choose to do matters. Host Sarah Urist Green outlines a few approaches (including some both/and AND either/or options), and poses some very relevant questions to ponder as we each grapple with how to appreciate someone’s content, even as we condemn their behavior:

In addition to the quote I included above, here are a couple more that stood out to me from the video, but I highly recommend you watch it all if you’re at all interested in these issues.

Who reaps the financial rewards of our attention?

The context of this one was the question of whether or not to watch the latest controversial YouTube video, but the larger point is that these choices have impacts in any genre:

I can’t bear to think that I’ll… contribute financially in any way to that person and their fame. Our attention matters, and it’s also being closely monitored, amounting to ad dollars and influencing boardroom decisions about what kind of stuff gets made.