For the past few weeks I’ve been working on an Unexpected Spiritual Experience to submit to the recent series here at Doves and Serpents. It’s been a long time in the making and more than a few late nights I’ve gone to bed somewhat frustrated with it. We’re in the middle of a move right now and the physically unsettled nature of our situation is proving to be an obstacle. The nagging presence of that darn paper towel roll standing on the kitchen counter without a mount to hang it from (among other things) is just enough to squelch any motivation I have to open up my word processor. It has, however, got me thinking about how much mental and emotional work writing can be. I have to feel strong enough to do it and very often I don’t. This experience has me wondering when you write a journal entry, a letter, a blog or even a facebook post, what does it require of you and what do you get from it?
For me, writing both requires that I feel centered within myself as well as helps me to get to that centered place. It’s almost a form of meditation. I write best at night and usually 3-4 hours after my kids have gone to bed because it takes me that much time to unwind so that I can get there. For this reason it was shocking for me to learn that Gwendolyn Brooks, one of my favorite poets, turned out most of her poems line by fragmented line on her tiny kitchen table on scratch paper in the middle of the afternoon with her children running all about her. She says this is why she was drawn to poetry, because it was something that she could do with only a few minutes. This makes me wonder if she lived her life in a centered place, not only in short evening fragments like I do. If so, I’d like to have met her.
When I read A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway recently I was impressed by his description of how much effort, hard work, emotion and time he would put into a paragraph or even one line, sometimes turning out nothing for months while spending hours of every day trying at it. And he’s (supposedly) one of the best. He frequently says things like “It was a good writing day” or “a bad winter for writing” and then finally, “It was so easy after Spain.” Somehow it’s refreshing to hear how hard someone with immense amounts of talent still has to work at their skill. Perhaps that’s the real difference between the successful ones and the average…hard, hard work. One of my favorite things that he says about writing, possibly because I identify with it is this: “Some say that in writing you can never possess anything until you have given it away.”
When I write something that feels important to me a fetish of mine is that every word I type has to be “true” and distilling truth from fiction in your own words can be very revealing. As I search for the truest words to use I learn a great deal about my own experiences, what I really felt and what I really learned from them. I love this quote from an author I admire, Joan Didian, that tells something of the same thing: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
I think writing can be so important to do no matter how bad you are at it. There are few things as cathartic for me as writing about my own experiences even though sometimes I avoid it because it requires so much of me, namely, time. Mormons are supposed to be a “record keeping people”. It’s one of our commandments that I admire most, one of them that really does something for me spiritually. Even though I didn’t hit the deadline with my spiritual experience to the Doves and Serpents Series I have the time that I spent wading through it, learning, again, what it all means to me. And, in the end, I do have a handful of perfectly true sentences that really paint my picture even if the beginning and the ending are all wrong. As Hemingway says, “It is not that things should be published. But I believe now that it is important they they exist.” And in that, Hemingway and I have something in common.