If you’ve ever had the luck of meeting Sean H. Doyle, you’ll realize quickly there are still complete human beings in this world, and that Sean is one of them. His essays offer up a darker matrix of his humanity, but a humanity nonetheless, and one that is so importantly his own. “This Clouded Heart,” featured in Issue 3 of The Atlas Review, draws unsettling connections between our public and private selves, which, for a drug addict, are quite profound. The personal history of such constant physical and psychological abuse is, for Sean, redeemable only in the messy chunks of telling it. This is a writing that writhes under our skins unadorned, glistening only from the dirty punk rock oils of his roots. But it is a story not without its beauty. We exist with this story on a shore, looming through binoculars at the terror of waters we’ve managed to escape by some hairs. But this isn’t a story about survival so much as the difficult addled details of addiction, sex, and grief. This isn’t about safety but the precipice of harm always about to happen. And yet, it is exactly this violent dichotomy that drives Sean, and drives the essay. As second-person narration is wont, the beauty locates itself just beyond the immediate, making Sean the pilot, copilot, and passenger on-board a plane always moving. Read the excerpt, and you’ll know what I mean. Buy the issue and continue to read the story, and you’ll really get it.
Natalie Eilbert: Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot of what it means to write the personal, especially where family is involved. It’s nearly crippling to consider the level of exposure involved depending on the subject matter. “This Clouded Heart” is a deeply personal essay, one that punctures and gouges the “I” and its history. When you set out to write this story, did you have any reservations when it came to the details? Were there aspects to the story you felt you could never include?
Sean Doyle: I used to spend a lot of time worrying about how the things I write might impact other people. I realized, that for me, and for my writing, this was a hinderance. I think we all have filters we use in our day-to-day dealing with people–most folks don’t talk to the mailman about their fantasies, most folks don’t tell the kid who works the overnight shift at the 7-Eleven about their toe fungus–and those very same filters sometimes get in the way of communicating through writing. I have finally, after years and years of struggling, done the best that I can to remove those filters. So, I don’t really have reservations anymore. I lived it, I own what I’ve done, and I can write about it. I also think it’s important when people write nonfiction to remember that just because the way they perceived a thing that happened, doesn’t mean that is how the other people involved in that happening remember it.
As far as aspects of the story that I may or may not be able to include goes, I’m the kind of person who feels that the things that make us the most uncomfortable are the things we can learn the most from. If what I am writing makes me feel exposed or anxious, it’s something I definitely need to explore.