Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Personal Writing Philosophy From Spring Novel Class

“Writing is not about writing what we know, but trusting our vocations as a way of knowing, and writing in order to see what we do not know.”
-Scott Cairns, Faith & Writing Festival, 2010

“In the creative life, readiness is all, readiness is everything.”

-Robert Siegel, Faith & Writing Festival, 2010

Once, in a cabin in the mountains of southern Oregon, I gave myself over to words and the mystery of the space between them. I spent a week living and breathing a lyric essay I had taken to calling my labor of love. Each morning I awoke, firing up the tea kettle and opening up a book that I hoped would give me the inspiration and courage I needed to spend another day fully engrossed in my writing. In moments of emptiness, I returned to it, and in desperate moments of doubt, I chose walks instead. I learned that the movement of my feet coaxed my mind to do the same, each step encouraging a word to add on to another until the traffic jam of words began to sort itself out. During those walks I became a vessel, emptied out so that the stream of words might flow through once more.

That week I felt as though I didn't need anything. I forgot to eat. I lost track of time. I neglected socializing. I fell into moments of complete attention in which nothing else mattered but the world of words I had created. All I wanted to do was be with them, to hold them, to search within them for the light of life that I trusted would reveal itself to me, as if a gift for my patient waiting. These glimmers I kept, while the rest I trimmed away, knowing that this was what I must do if I ever wanted to come close to speaking the truth. My dear and kind professor Jessie sat alongside me as I worked that week. She read my words aloud to me and guided me through my doubts. The week progressed and I watched as my initially fragmented and fragile collection of words became stronger and more connected. I felt they were ready to enter the real world and so I made them physical. I craved the tangible, so I took the words out of my computer and I laid them out in front of me. I cut them up and rearranged them as if they were a puzzle, only with this puzzle there were endless solutions and no knowing when I had actually completed it. I had no other option but to choose trust.

Trust was everything that week. I trusted the spirit in my gut to write that essay for me. I listened to her when she bid me come write, whatever the topic she chose for me. Occasionally my logical impulses tried to intervene. They wanted to know why, what for, what does this mean? But I tried not to listen to them. I tried to simply open up and write. And in that final evening of my week, with twelve hours to complete my final draft, I trusted that the ending I had been waiting for all week to tie the loose ends together would come. It did come unexpectedly, standing in the shower while I let the day's work run off me. I wish I could tell you it was something about the way the mist fogged up the air, or the less romantic hair that had accumulated around the drain that sparked my inspiration, but I can't. It fell straight from the sky, or maybe it rose up from the earth. Either way, somehow it ended up in my hands, for no apparent reason other than the fact that I was ready to receive it.

“Readiness is all, readiness is everything,” Hamlet spoke, and Robert Siegel echoed. It was readiness that led me to rush out of the bathroom that evening, towel wrapped around me, remnants of shampoo still camped out behind my ears, and sit down in my humble living room, fire dying down in the wood stove, to type the last words that would gather my week together and send it out to be shared.

I tell you the story of this week in my life because it represents my writing life in all its fervency and earnestness. It carries all the elements I hold most dear – physicality, openness, playfulness, sharing, readiness, and trust. Unfortunately, I don't have the luxury of spending all of my writing life tucked away in a little cabin in the woods in a community of kindness. Walks on sidewalks in the suburbs don't fill me up quite so much as getting lost in the woods. Taking four classes at a time hinders my attentiveness and my readiness. But this is the real world, and I must return to it. My job is to look upon it in wonder, even amongst the pavement and the busyness and the cafeteria food. It's harder to settle down here. Trust doesn't come as easily. Fear and doubt paralyze me some days as I sit down before the blank screen of my computer, and on these days I must clumsily choose prayer.

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