As it happens with Keelty, she sent me yet another perfect piece of writing the other day from May Sarton, who is a brilliant writer and the inspiration for this post, the topic of which has been on my mind lately:
One has to stop holding back for fear of alienating
some imaginary reader or real relative or friend,
and come out with personal truth.
If we are to understand the human condition,
and if we are to accept ourselves in all the complexity,
self doubt, extravagance of feeling, guilt, joy,
the slow freeing of the self to its full capacity for action and creation,
both as human being and as artist,
we have to know all we can about each other,
and we have to be willing to go naked.
If this wasn’t already all italicized, I would want to highlight every word! Wow – does she say it well or what? Her brilliance lies, I think, not only in hitting the essence directly spot on, but in her succinctness too (the latter of which is definitely not my strong suit as a writer! Every single word says it all – she doesn’t waste one single syllable!). This is exactly the task, the challenge, the point of it – all art, all expression, well, all life, really!
Along with this quote, Mary also sent me another extraordinary piece of writing some time ago by one of our favorite writers, Terry Tempest Williams, entitled “Why I Write.” I’ve been reflecting on this as well, since Terry underscores May’s points rather dramatically. Even though it’s long, I’ve got to include it here. The spacing is wonky, but here it is:
Why I Write
I write to make peace with the things I cannot control.
I write to create fabric in a world that often appears black and white.
I write to discover. I write to uncover.
I write to meet my ghosts. I write to begin a dialogue.
I write to imagine things differently and in imagining things
differently perhaps the world will change.
I write to honor beauty.
I write to correspond with my friends.
I write as a daily act of improvisation.
I write because it creates my composure.
I write against power and for democracy.
I write myself out of my nightmares and into my dreams.
I write in a solitude born out of community.
I write to the questions that shatter my sleep.
I write to the answers that make me complacent.
I write to remember. I write to forget.
I write to the music that opens my heart.
I write to quell the pain.
I write with the patience of melancholy in winter.
I write because it allows me to confront that which I do not know.
I write as an act of faith. I write as an act of slowness.
I write to record what I love in the face of loss.
I write because it makes me less fearful of death.
I write as an exercise in pure joy.
I write as one who walks on the surface of a frozen river beginning to melt.
I write out of my anger and into my passion.
I write from the stillness of night anticipating –
I write to listen. I write out of silence.
I write to soothe the voices shouting
inside me, outside me, all around me.
I write because I believe in words.
I write because it is a dance with paradox.
I write because you can play on the page
like a child left alone in sand.
I write because it is the way I take long walks.
I write because I believe it can create a path in darkness.
I write with a knife, carving each word
from the generosity of trees.
I write as ritual. I write out of my inconsistencies.
I write with the colors of memory.
I write as a witness to what I have seen.
I write as witness to what I imagine.
I write by grace and grit.
I write for the love of ideas.
I write for the surprise of a sentence.
I write with the belief of alchemists.
I write knowing I will always fail.
I write knowing words always fall short.
I write knowing I can be killed by own words, stabbed by syntax,
crucified by understanding and misunderstanding.
I write past the embarrassment of exposure.
I trust nothing especially myself and slide head first
into the familiar abyss of doubt and humiliation
and threaten to push the delete button on my way down,
or madly erase each line,
pick up the paper and rip it into shreds –
and then I realize it doesn’t matter,
words are always a gamble,
words are splinters from cut glass.
I write because it is dangerous, a bloody risk, like love,
to form the words, to say the words, to touch the source,
to be touched, to reveal how vulnerable we are,
I write as though I am whispering in the ear
of the one I love.
Terry Tempest Williams
Ohmigod, this is amazing, yes?! If you don’t know Terry – run, don’t walk to the library or bookstore or load her up on your Kindle – especially Refuge.
I’ve had these issues on my mind as I’ve sensed that inner censor rearing her head, telling me I should hold back, be aware of who’s reading these posts and make my words and expressions of my experiences palatable for everyone. I found myself particularly aware of this when I posted the one called, “Do ‘Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Yes, even bold, out-there me was concerned – would I lose some readers (hopefully not friends) over this one?
I’ve tried not to pay it much mind, but it’s there and has been attempting to take hold and direct the course of my writing. I’m equally determined, though, to stay true, to stay on that more true course toward authenticity. But I’m aware that it’s a constant process of digging deeper and deeper and deeper, letting go, checking in – is this really true, am I really speaking the truth or am I toning it down, giving in to the censor? Sometimes it takes lengthy writing to get to that voice, to uncover the layers that cover it up and then in the process, finding that one word or sentence that is the portal in to the real truth and building from there.
It gets me thinking too – who am I writing for? After all, I’ve decided to create this blog; blogs are for public consumption; I am posting these writings on the internet after all – the whole world has access to it – or at least the world of people who know about my blog (and some who don’t who have surprisingly found it). And this is something I really have to stay vigilant about. I spoke about this in a very early post – that I didn’t want my writing to be motivated primarily for my loved ones who are reading it. And the truth be told, it’s challenging.
So the truth is, I’m not writing for anyone – not for you and not even for me, really. I’m writing, as Terry says, to access and channel source. I’m writing in the service and expression of truth. Ohsure, it’s my version of the truth, or the truth that I know to be mine in the moment. But hopefully in some small way, it is my expression of some universal, capital T Truth of this human condition. And I can’t be doing that for me or for you or anyone else. That would be performance, I think; and that’s where the attachment to outcome arises.
I’ve found myself publishing a post and then eagerly anticipating a response from this person or that one, wondering what they might think, how they might respond; and then sometimes feeling either disappointed when those anticipated responses didn’t come or delighted when they have. And as much as I love sharing my experiences with you all, the authentic voice knows that that, ultimately, is not the point. The point is … well … see May’s and Terry’s words above for that clarity. And if I’m writing from those places, then your responses or lack thereof really don’t matter; because I’m writing simply because I must. (Here comes the censor again – “don’t tell them their responses don’t matter – that’s rude and really, you do love hearing from them – tell them to keep responding!” Yeah, the part about loving to hear from you is true – of course it is. I just can’t get attached to those responses.)
My writing is not one-dimensional, meaning that, dare I say it, like Terry’s; it doesn’t have only one purpose. Yes, I write because I want to stay in touch with all, I want you to know how life is for me out here and in writing and <ahem> hearing from you, I feel like in some small way, I get not only to share the journey, but to have your precious company. It means the world to me, really it does. But that’s not the whole reason.
I write because it’s my craft – if I am an artist of any sort, it is a writer. I’ve been taking that on as an identity and saying so more and more. Yes. I am a writer. So I write because it’s what I do, it’s what I know how to do and how I know to access the truth and the mystery of my life. And if there is a reason that I write for myself, it’s because I’m an external processor, meaning that in order to understand myself and my experiences and views of life, I need to hear myself verbalize those things and then I can make ‘sense’ of them. This is different than for internal processors, who do it all internally and then express themselves after they’ve figured out how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking. I simply can’t quite know that without expressing it – out loud. As Emile Zola says, “…If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will tell you – I came here to live out loud…”
Yes, I’m a writer. And I’ve declared so not only to myself and also to you, hear and now; but also to other travelers I’ve encountered along the way. Their frequent responses are something about what kind of writing I do (memoir, I answer) and then right away they want to know what I’ve published, as if that’s the most important part of writing. (It isn’t.) They’re often perplexed, as the ones who were here yesterday were, that I choose to spend the entire day writing, rather than running around at the fever pitch at which they’re moving. One of them asked me, “So, are you a professional writer?” I had no answer. This morning when one of them saw me at it again, she asked, “Working already?” Her perception was so far from my truth, I had no way to quickly respond before she was off on her next outing.
The local people can’t quite figure me out either. Tourists don’t come here and seemingly do nothing all day. The women gather around me at various times throughout the day, looking over my shoulder as my fingers fly across the keyboard. Sometimes I show them my photos, which brings their laughter and interest. One of them points at the surrounding area and at me, questioning, I think, why I’m not moving about. (My early morning 2+ hour bike ride and my walking and wandering through the village was enough for me for today.) I mimed writing, pointed at myself and then mimed opening and closing a book. Maybe she got it. Maybe she didn’t. It doesn’t matter.
No, other people might not get what I’m doing and really, that’s okay. It’s more than okay. This isn’t about anyone getting me. It’s about me feeling like there’s simply nothing else more important for me to be doing right now. It’s about feeling like all I want to do is write. And it’s about letting it flow, surrendering to the words that are effortlessly appearing across the screen and giving them the time and space to come to life. And it’s about deep gratitude, once more, that my computer is up and running again and I can write my heart out!
I also know that I write not only to reflect upon the deep questions and mysteries. Sometimes I like to write the ‘light’ stuff, too. Like some of zany travel and life adventures (I’m thinking of the “Happy Ending” post right now!). But even when it’s ‘light,’ still I must bring my true voice to it. Still, in the midst of the laughter and joyousness, I want to express a deeper truth that’s there – some poignancy, some new awareness – finding the story within the story. But really, all I want to do sometimes is have fun and be silly, and that goes for my writing, too!
I guess, too, I could choose to write and not post – that’s a clear choice. But it’s not the choice I want to make. No, not now. Part of my work right now is to put my writing out there, let the world see it, expose myself (and not in the more comfortable ways I know how to do that!), learn about non-attachment to outcome and response (I am hanging out with the Buddhists, after all) and experiment for the first time in my life in letting people read the truth, the whole truth, come what may. I am learning not to sanitize the shadow, not to apologize for my particularly narrow view of life and the world, but to just let it rip. ‘Take the risk, go for the jugular,’ as writer and writing teacher, Natalie Goldberg says – write from your ‘wild mind’. Yes, yes, yes, Natalie!
This process has been underway for some years now – and while it seems like I walk through the world being quite open and not afraid to express who I am, that’s simply not entirely true. My therapy of the last almost five years has had the overriding focus on one issue – vulnerability. And Mr. John Threlfall has been unrelenting in pushing me on this issue – sometimes hard, but always with kindness and with the belief that it’s the key to my healing and my authentic unfolding and wholeness. I’ve argued with him, pushed back and resisted. I’ve cried for entire sessions, desperate to hold on to some image of myself that I’m sure is the better path. But it hasn’t worked. And it’s not working has been the best part of all. And don’t tell him, but he’s been absolutely right!
I know plenty about how to appear all well put together, smart, strong and on top of my life. And not only do I appear that way, but it’s also true and real. At times. But there are plenty of other times that it simply isn’t – and letting that be so; not only letting it be so, but letting go of the bravado that covers it up, and embracing and loving those messy, ambivalent, paradoxical parts of me and letting not only the world, but also me see them has been the work. It’s brought me to my knees. It’s threatened to drown me in an ocean of tears. And yet, it’s also been the key to my freedom. It’s shown me, simply, that there’s no other path to access the essence of the whole person who I am. I’ve learned, contrary to what I’ve ever been willing to believe, that there’s incredible power and strength in my vulnerability – and that I need to learn to surrender to that soft, tender woman who also lives inside – I can’t be all of who I am without her voice and presence. I’m a big one for showing up, but as often as I walk that talk, there are still many more miles to stroll down this path toward authenticity. And my writing is taking some of the most vital steps on that journey.
And this blogging, this putting it all out there – is my first real attempt at letting the world see me … all of me. Not just the parts that I know are valued and loved, but all the others, too – all the neurotic nuances, the judgmental know-it-all parts, the passionate erotic wild one, the scared and lonely one, the smart ass, the weary one, the one who has a lot to say, the one who wonders sometimes what’s the point of the whole story of this life. It’s also the one who signed up as a work scholar for a month at Esalen to participate in the “Writing Your Memoir” workshop. It’s also the one who’s terrified that I did such a thing. It’s the one who knows that I can’t wait any longer, not only to take the workshop, but to live the workshop every day, in every way. It’s the same one who wept my way through my first week of Singing with Courage a year and a half ago – singing in public, for god’s sake – what the hell was I thinking doing that? And yet it’s the one who has kept on singing, off key and all; and still, learning to love the voice and celebrate the courage that it takes to express it and allow it to be heard and witnessed and ohmigod, even loved.
Really, what else am I going to do? And when am I going to do it?
So here I am, doing it right now … believing that I have something to say, trusting that it’s not only worth saying, and not only worth sharing, but it’s essential that I do. And – there’s plenty more to come from this vulnerable place!
Like Jon & James say about their marriage “(Legally married) … and the sky hasn’t fallen!” Not only has the sky not fallen (in response to both their marriage and my writing; but actually the heavens are celebrating – delighted that each and every day, in subtle and in bold ways, we are more fully becoming who we really are.
I’ll finish off this post with one more quote from another writer whom I adore:
Don’t blame me for being what I am.
We are all more things than we seem.
I haven’t relinquished amazement
nor have I forgotten how to cherish.
If I am staring out the window at nothing,
maybe it is something worth looking at.