Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why I Write

Inspired by the question posed by the National Day on Writing

I write because I don’t know what I think until I’ve put it into words, and sometimes there’s no one around to say it to.

I write for the same reason that I need long walks and home cooked meals—my body needs it, so does my soul.

I write because it gets me out of my brain and into my body.

I write because I overhear conversations on the street or listen to anecdotes my friends tell me and my first response is “Wouldn’t that make a good story?”

I write because I can’t take photographs.

I write because I can’t tell lies.

I write because I am really bad at thinking on the fly. In writing I have time to come up with the perfect rebuttal, hours after the argument is over (the argument in which I said nothing, just stood and opened and closed my mouth like a fish).

I write because metaphors are miraculous. In that last sentence I added a fish even though, as far as we know, fish can’t argue.

I write because I love em dashes and colons and rolling repetitive rhythms. Oh, and alliteration.

I write because I think better with a pen in my hand.

I write to retell the good old stories. You know the ones I’m talking about— coming of age tales, heroic quests, love stories, testimonies of faith, death and rebirth. They may have been told thousands of times already across human history, but they are so big—so true—that they don’t fit into one retelling, or even a hundred retellings. There is still room for me in these old stories.

I write because telling stories, naming the world, is what makes us human.

I write because despite our best efforts, this is still a sexist, racist, unequal and indifferent world. And maybe if I can tell a story about one moment, real or imagined, where people manage to break free of that for a moment and live in compassion—maybe that changes things.

I write because placing myself in a character’s shoes reminds me that everyone in my life has a backstory I may not know.

I write to discover things I don’t know until I see them on the page.

I write to remember.

 *     *    *

Why I am a Writer, or why I call myself a Writer, is a different question than why I write. I used to write because I liked to read. Nerdy dreamy girls in books—Emily of New Moon, Vicky Austin, Harriet the Spy—ended up writers. And so did the women and men whose pictures I saw on the back jacket flap. I used to write because I loved stories and I hadn’t yet learned to fear what people thought of them.

Why do I still call myself a writer? I’m not sure. Today I’m more of an editor and occasional blogger. But I still introduce myself with that loaded word.

At a craft talk once a writer said—I can’t remember who—that real writers love sentences. I thought when I heard that, I do love sentences—the millions of ways they can look and sound. So maybe I am a real writer.

I also love to revise—to carefully dissect each sentence and stitch it back together to see if each phrase and word and consonant is saying what I wanted it to say. Many people say this is one of the worst parts of the writing process. So maybe if I love the hard things, I am a real writer.

I am a writer because I named myself a writer, almost six years ago, and I’ve been trying to live into that call ever since.

I write because I am a writer, and I don’t know what that means, but this is the only way I know to find out.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


"Sacraments are our road maps home. God may not need them, but we do, and while they cannot make something happen, at least they make sure that we are in the right place if it should." Barbara Brown Taylor (via Clayfire)

Confession is a sacrament, isn't it? And writing can be confession. The blank page my listener. Holy One, may this be the right place tonight...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lenten Disciplines: Giving Up vs Taking On

Happy Shrove Tuesday, everyone! At home we always celebrate Shrove Tuesday, the day before the season of Lent begins, with a pancake supper. In the medieval church, pancakes were a way to use up all the rich foods, like butter, milk, and eggs, that would be restricted or forbidden during Lent. I’m pretty sure, however, that medieval Shrove Tuesday pancakes didn’t contain quite as many chocolate chips as the ones I just made for Drew. :) Now I’m sluggish and full and not entirely ready for Lent to start.

So here’s my question. What are you giving up for Lent? Or should I ask, what discipline are you taking on?

More often in recent years, I’ve heard people champion this idea of adding something to your spiritual practice during Lent, instead of the traditional taking something away. I get that giving things up can turn into a self-help competition, a spiritually sanctioned crash diet. Taking on a discipline can give you a chance to try something new.

Usually, though, I’ve pushed back against that. I have a tendency to add and add and add things to my life. I’ll stack up disciplines and commitments until I’m buried under them. And when I get too busy to keep a particular promise I’ve made to myself, I’ll let it slide—one by one ‘til I’ve broken them all.

Whether we end up adding or subtracting, the question is, why do we fast during Lent in the first place? Why did the early church trade tasty pancakes for sparse meatless meals? As I understand it, the tradition of fasting is supposed to remind us of our need for God. When we give things up, things that we love and depend on, we stop leaning on the things we think we need, and learn again how to lean on God. We make space for God, in a way, by clearing out part of our inward-focused lives.

Which is all to say that I’m ignoring my own advice this year, and taking on instead of giving up. For a variety of reasons—I can’t find it in my heart to fast from Facebook anymore, though I have the past few years. But that was before large chunks of my income came from writing & editing online. Networks like Facebook aren’t quite the optional luxury they used to be.

I’ve also been inspired by other suggested spiritual practices that I’ve read. Kristin Berkey-Abbott has a list of creative practices that I love—her suggestions extend past the traditional artsy ideas to the everyday creative acts that I love: baking bread, taking photographs, planting a garden. She also suggests keeping a spiritual journal, which is funnily enough one of the few writing forms I haven’t tried. This Lent, this spiritual journal is the thing I’m taking on.

I am also going to try to pray the Daily Office each day. I’ve explored this form of prayer off and on over the past year, as I’ve been trying to understand more about the Anglican tradition that raised me. (You can get a good sense of this form of daily prayer at the Mission of St. Clare's website, or as always the trusty Book of Common Prayer Online.) Some of it’s familiar; after all, the Evening Prayer service forms the backbone of Holden Evening Prayer which is near to my heart. I like it because when you take a good look, it’s mostly poetry (in the form of scripture, psalms and prayers) and because it can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. And the simplicity makes it easier to keep up with, and minimize slipping.

Mostly, I suppose, I want to listen. I have been flying in all different directions this year, muddling through an unscripted life, trying things at random to see if perhaps this might be what I’m called to do. If I try and take time to listen for God each day—well, maybe that is making space for God, no matter whether I am adding to or taking away from my daily routine.

The forty days of Lent are supposed to parallel the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. He entered as a fairly standard disciple of John the Baptist who’d just been hollered at by a supernatural voice—and he left as a teacher and a healer and someone who spent a lot of time on mountaintops listening for God. I wonder sometimes what he learned in the wilderness, in the parts of the story that the Bible skips over. I wonder what I will learn these forty days.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Giving Up

(This morning I thought there were enough Valentine's Day posts out there, I didn't need to add to them. And then this song, dear to my heart, came up on shuffle and I couldn't resist...)

what if we stop having a ball?
what if the paint chips from the wall?
what if there's always cups in the sink?
and what if i'm not who you think 
i am?

I am terrible at making choices. Anything bigger than what to eat for dinner takes me a long time to decide. I held off declaring an English major for several semesters even though I'd taken more lit classes than anything else. But what if I decided later I'd be better off in music? Or French? Or religion? I'd go through these same questions for apartments, for jobs. The scariest thing about choosing is that it shuts out other possibilities. And I can picture those possibilities so clearly. I'm a writer; I have an excellent and well-practiced imagination. I am the master of the what if.

what if i fall further than you?
what if you dream of somebody new?
what if i never let you win
or chase you with a rolling pin—
well? what if i do?

For so long I was afraid the "What if"s would all come crashing in on my relationship, never more so than when I moved to Claremont. Because Drew would figure out what I'm like, in my most unguarded moments.

But maybe that's one of the benefits of dating a process theologian, or at least my process theologian. He never expects me to stay static, or to know any absolute answers. Instead he'd ask, do you want to be with me— as who you are, today? And I'd always answer yes. Yes to our vigorous debates over theology, literature, the relative merits of Buffy vs Angel. Yes to the spontaneous fro-yo dates he'd take me on. Yes to the gentle sound of his voice as he talked me down from being nervous, from being afraid.

what if our baby comes home after nine?
what if your eyes close before mine?

And we started talking forever, and it started getting scarier. We started talking marriage, which means entangled finances and someday children and years and years of cups in the sink and the absolute impossibility that I'd be able to make choices without changing his life, and my own.

But it's not like I'd be able to avoid those choices anyway. What was I going to do, tell myself "what if" stories but never act on them, for fear I'd make other stories disappear? Too late for that anyway. I'd already changed Drew's life, and he'd changed mine. For the better.

what if you lose yourself sometimes?
then i'll be the one to find you
safe in my heart

So a couple of months ago, when Drew knelt down on a snowy night, I said Yes for good. Yes for the person I was that night, and for the person I am today, and for all the people I'll be in the future. Because I like the possibilities that are branching off this love. Love with eyes open, love that doesn't pretend to be the only option, or even the only good option— love that is a choice.

'cos i am giving up on making passes
and i am giving up on half-empty glasses
and i am giving up on greener grasses
i am giving up
for you