“You’re going to feel like hell if you wake up some day and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart, your stories, memories, visions and songs. Your truths, your version of things in your own voice.” ~ Anne Lamott
Among the excess and the overwhelming on the Internet, there are calm, quiet places if I look for them. A quote that puts words to an experience I can’t yet find words to, an article that takes the words right out of my mouth, or poems that remind me of things I continue to forget. It was in one of these places where I was introduced to a poem that I need to read regularly.
An Address to My Fellow Faculty who Have Asked Me to Speak About My Work by A. Papatya Bucak is that poem which reminded me how important it is to write, so important that we need to continue writing even if there is never a reader, even if we never make money at it, and even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone but ourselves. Another way of saying this is that we must do the things that we are called to do. Writing is an attempt, though this poem admits, an imperfect one, at touching truth, compassion, hope, connection, and beauty. Bucak references all art in the same way inferring that there should never be a world without art.
My work is to tell you that without art we would be in a world without art. […] My work is to imagine a world without art so that there is never a world without art.
The importance of writing, or art, or the things we are called to do (let’s put those all on the table from here on) is already known by most people who are driven to put words on paper, paint on canvas, chalk on sidewalk, or fingers on strings for that matter. It’s just that the value of these acts are easy to forget. My writing is often overshadowed by immediate things, the money-making work that should be prioritized over something so seemingly frivolous, the sleep that must be had, the tidy house that must be kept. These are the more conspicuous acts with more tangible outcomes. But, the things no one else sees, the slower things, the lifelong projects, the words in a notebook that will likely never be read, are equally essential. I think this is something I say a lot. I write about slow things, patience, and quiet, not because I have perfected any of them but because I haven't.
Without unpaid creative recklessness, life gets mechanic. Perspective gets too close, colours become dull, the breath gets short. If we are lucky, something reminds us that we should really be creating after all and not give a damn if it’s ever read or published or monetized. The only advice that writers ever give to aspiring writers is, write. You want to be a writer, ok write. You’re not going to get any advice that is more helpful than that. Still, writers write whole books and essays and lifetimes about the urge, the challenge, but in the end the need to write. The core message is always the same though. Write.
But there will be times when a writer isn’t writing.
My work is to see who you are and who I think you could become. To notice the slate grey night lit by a full moon half behind a cloud. To know what it is to want more from someone than they are willing to give. To see the shadows cast by your secrets. To notice an ant that has drowned in a single drop of water in my sink.
No matter how much we write, it will never feel enough. And this is something to make peace with. Know that the not-writing times are critical too. It is also our job to pay attention when we are not writing. A writer must notice the wacky half-dreams that happen just before we drift off to sleep, or the time our nephew first felt a warm breeze on his uncovered skin, and he breathed as if his lungs got caught on the world’s breath. We must notice, knowing that this is fodder for writing too.
My work is to explain my heart even though I cannot explain my heart. My work is to find the right word even though there is no right word.
What we must make peace with too is feeling just-not-quite-adequate in our attempt to convey these moments where we paid attention. These are the moments that appear brilliant in our memory but will lack luster the moment we try to explain them.
Even though there are holes in our net, we will try to capture these moments because we have to. We will make jokes to people about needing to write to stay sane and they will laugh, and probably not know that we are serious. We will write only three words somedays because it is better than nothing and sometimes it is all that we can manage. Some days we will write nothing at all. We will write love letters to people who have died and our self when we were thirteen and to our twenty-four year old son who is still only seven.
There will be some days that start off late or far too early and ask for more than we can give and our head will feel like a knotted-up ball of twine for which we cannot find the end. That same day, we will write something down and start to unravel our head and remember that before the kitchen gets cleaned, instead of a pressing email, before enough sleep, this is important too.