This morning I had to shuffle through carcasses of unfinished drafts scattered across my desktop. Last week left a holding pen of limbo, posts for the blog that never made it, leaving the Archives blank and my mind in question.
I’ve written all of my life, journaling, submitting work, studying literature in college, and sharing in this blog forum for the last five years. My writing has had different phases, different focus and meaning over the years, but I don’t recall that I’ve ever questioned its place in my life. It has always been here, it has always been a part of me.
These past few weeks, however, I found myself wondering about words, especially my own. Questioning their necessity, and feeling like there were too many streaming from my fingertips, that simply were unnecessary. I’d been finding solace in silence, though I questioned even that, as a possible avoidance tactic from something I was too afraid to face.
I was enjoying the ease found in implementing daily tasks. Even washing dishes had more appeal than putting my heart to paper, as a practical kitchen task had a beginning, an end, and was completely mindless. In ten minutes, I could see the accomplishments of my work in a clean sink. My creative endeavors, on the other hand, are rarely ever tidy.
It was nerves, as well. Last week was edging me ever-closer to the writing workshop with Cheryl Strayed, an accomplished writer, well-known for her bestselling book-turned-movie, “Wild.” I would be among a fortunate sixteen participants to spend two full days in her tutelage, learning about “The Story You Have to Tell.” Like so many, I had immersed myself in “Wild,” almost not wanting her to reach the Bridge of the Gods, the finish line of her 1100 mile solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. That bridge would mean the final chapter, and “Wild” was a book I didn’t want to end.
The book is about a young woman finding her way, while I am a middle-aged mother/wife/writer, feeling more disoriented than I did when I was in my thirties, raising a five-year old, alone. Disoriented in my creative writing life, that is. My external world is the most settled its ever been in my 42 years. Health, love, family, home. There can be the usual modern-day stresses, but my basic human needs are gratefully covered.
But the words. They would come, and then fall flat. Five days before the workshop, I stood in my kitchen chopping onions, and dared to consider it. Blasphemous in even thinking the thought…be damned, I entertained it anyway. What if I just pulled out? I could call the workshop coordinator and explain that I couldn’t come. My decline would softened by the boon that the next person in line on the long waiting list would get to attend. Right?
The onions were minced, as I observed the inner wrestling of mind and heart. To fantasize of walking away from such an opportunity, clearly showed my current state of unrest in my work. I took note of the fear, but did not act. I knew I had to go, even if it would be with a proverbial prostration at the door, and potentially nothing for the prompts. I settled with the decision that the least (or maybe the most) that I could do, was simply show up.
So this weekend, I had the humbling privilege to share two full days with a room full of brilliant (and generously kind) writers. Cheryl was warm, open, succinct, and ever-giving in her support of each writer in the room. Points she clearly documented in large letters on poster paper, outlined many of the specific issues I’ve been grappling with in my words. Her writing prompts pushed me, and clumsy first passes emerged with faint hopes of future promise.
On the first day, I found myself on the edge of tears on numerous occasions, though there was no specific source of the emotions. As one writing session brought about the telling of the day my parents told me of their separation, I was amazed to find, that thirty-four years after the fact, I still could crumble in the telling of that moment. There was juice there. A story of many layers. There was a room, there were people, there was a feeling, and there were sounds. And there were still questions after all of these years. And there were questions beneath the questions. This was fertile ground, with words that were worth waiting for.
At 5:40am, I know it’s just about time to wake Jeb for school. This morning is just a grazing on the inspiration rekindled in me by a weekend with extraordinary writers. I cannot go down the path of comparison, holding my words to theirs, or I could certainly feel defeated. Instead, I dive into the beauty of story. How we all have a story to tell, something that transcends our personal experience, and resonates whole and true to all humans. A tale that brings connection, that makes us feel alive, that reminds us of the fragile grace that threads us all together in this living.
I may still be searching for just the right words, but I haven’t given up on them.